Fraud targeting senior citizens is particularly shocking but, sadly, also quite common. The National Consumer Law Center estimates that phone scams alone cost older Americans roughly $40 billion a year.

The good news is that a lot of these tactics have been around for some time. By learning some of the most widespread scams, you are in a much better position to steer clear of danger.

1. Medicare Fraud

If someone calls or comes to your door offering free medical equipment – from medical alert devices to wheelchairs – beware. Often, scammers will try to obtain your personal information so they can charge Medicare for the equipment. Chances are, you’ll never receive the supplies promised.

A related hoax involves persuading Medicare recipients to receive free services at a mobile health clinic. Unfortunately, these makeshift clinics are simply a ruse to obtain personal details from the patient. As with medical equipment scams, the perpetrator will use the information to charge Medicare for services it never actually performed.

The fact is, free health screenings should never require one to divulge sensitive information like Social Security numbers or Medicare account numbers. If you’re being asked for personal details that seem unnecessary, it’s a red flag that something unscrupulous is afoot. 

2. Funeral Cons

People are at their most vulnerable when they’ve just lost someone they love. Unfortunately, some con artists take full advantage of this.

Some swindlers will browse obituaries and then visit the funeral services of someone who recently died. Claiming that the deceased owed them money, they’ll try to extort the bogus debt from a grieving widow or widower. 

3. Bogus Charities

Unfortunately, some of the most common scams involve taking advantage of a person’s inherent kindness. In one example, the individual will call seniors to raise money for a fake charity organization. Often they’ll do so in the wake of a natural disaster, when the potential scam victims are most likely to lend a helping hand. (See 7 Signs Of A Charitable Disaster Scam.)

Be cautious of a charity whose name is similar to a more well-known organization. And don’t be afraid to get information about the group in writing or by doing your own independent research at a site like Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance before deciding to send in a check. 

4. Exploiting Grandparents

Another trick is to call seniors and say that their child or grandchild has gotten into an accident and needs money immediately. Sometimes, the caller will even assume the identity of a grandchild over the phone and relate some unexpected financial crisis with which he or she needs help.

Because money that’s wired doesn’t always require identification from the recipient, it’s an easy way for charlatans to collect cash from a generous grandparent. 

5. Home Improvement Scams 

Scam artists will sometimes knock on the door of older residents and point out that their roof needs repair or that that their house needs a fresh coat of paint. They’ll then pressure the homeowner into signing a contract without disclosing the full cost of the job. The scammer may even claim that they just completed work on a neighbor’s home and offer a “discounted” rate on the leftover materials. (For other scams to be alert to, see Top 6 Home Renovation Scams To Avoid.)

The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to do your research on contractors before signing anything. That means looking them up on the Better Business Bureau website and checking to make sure they’re licensed and bonded. 

If the worker at your door drives an unmarked van – or pressures you to make a decision the same day – take it as a warning sign.  

The Bottom Line

Perhaps the best defense against fraud is to trust your intuition. If a deal seems too good to be true – or someone asks you for personal information out of the blue – it could be a case of someone trying to take advantage of you. (For more, see Baby Boomers Beware: Financial Fraud That Targets Seniors and How Advisors Can Help Clients Spot Elder Scams.)