As much as we want to believe there couldn’t possibly be people who would harm innocent men and women, enter scammers and thieves at the ready to steal whatever they can get away with. Seniors are especially prone to scams as they can be more trusting of others, have a sizable nest egg, are less likely to report the crime and more interested in scam type products that promise unreasonable outcomes.
The National Council on Aging (NCCOA) says that financial scams against seniors are so prevalent that they are being considered “the crime of the 21st century.” To thieves, they are considered a low-risk crime because they are difficult to prosecute or often go unreported.
Consumers Digest estimates at least five million cases of financial abuse in the US each year, of which only one in twenty-five cases are reported.
The shocking aspect of financial crimes is that it is not always done by a stranger. Many reported elder abuse is committed by the older person’s own family members. Financial exploitation costs older adults billions of dollars each year.
Here are the top scams to be on the lookout for:
- The recent IRS impersonation fraud has victimized thousands of Americans. It is dubbed the “Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration” and is the most pervasive impersonation fraud in IRS history. Scammers based in the US and India called Americans and threatened arrests unless purported tax debts weren’t paid immediately. At least 1.97 million people were targeted and there were200 victims per week during the peak of the scam in 2016.
- Medicare scams involve perpetrators posing as a Medicare representative and trying to attain someone’s personal information or setting up fake services and then billing Medicare and pocketing the money.
- Counterfeit prescription drugs is a growing scam in which seniors buy fake medication on the Internet which seems to cost less than using a traditional pharmacy. Not only can this unsafe medication hurt their health, but they are willingly handing their money over to thieves.
- There are two types of Funeral and Cemetery Scams. The first involves a scammer attending a stranger’s funeral and attempting to take advantage of the grieving spouse. The con artist may concoct a story where the deceased had an outstanding debt and try to extort money from the relatives. Another type of scam is made by disreputable funeral homes where they add unnecessary charges to the funeral service since many people are unfamiliar with the costs involved in a funeral.
- Scammers attempt to capitalize with fraudulent anti-aging products in which they market fake medications and treatments, including Botox, to unsuspecting elderly people who are simply trying to maintain a youthful appearance. Not only are seniors handing their money over, but it can be dangerous to their health. This can go a step further where scammers attempt to sell other bogus products and mail empty boxes to victims after they have paid significant amounts of money.
- One of the most common schemes against the elderly is telemarketing and phone scams. Not only do older people make twice as many purchases over the phone, there is no face-to-face interaction, no paper trail and these crimes are hard to trace. Once a deal has been made, the scammer will share the buyer’s name and information to defraud the same person repeatedly. These scams can include the con artist telling the senior they found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if they make a good faith payment from their bank account. Another one is the scammer telling the older person that their relative has been hurt and needs money. Fake charities are also common in which scammers pretend the donations are going to a certain charity or to provide relief to victims of a natural disaster.
- Internet fraud leaves unsuspecting elderly people with computer viruses or fake pop-up browsers that trick people into downloading a fake anti-virus program or an actual computer virus. Seniors may also open fake emails from legitimate looking companies asking them to update or verify their information with the end result of a computer virus.
- Investment schemes can leave devastating effects such as the one headed by Bernie Madoff. Others include fables of a Nigerian prince looking for a partner to share an inheritance or complex fake financial products from scammers claiming to be from a reputable company.
- Homeowner and reverse mortgage scams are attractive to con artists because many seniors own their homes. Fraudsters may create bogus documents about their home’s value and then charge a fee for a reassessment of the property’s value. There are also scams against a reverse mortgage borrower due to unlocking equity in their homes.
- Sweepstakes and lottery scams entail informing a person they won a large prize and requiring payment to unlock the prize. The victim receives the prize check which they deposit but then bounces a few days later. Meanwhile, the thieves pocket the payment from the victim.
- The Grandparent scam is probably one of the worst scams because it toys with a person’s heart. It involves a scammer calling a victim and having them guess which grandchild it is. Then the fake grandchild tells them they need money for an emergency via Western Union or a MoneyGram. The scammer will go one step further and beg the grandparent not to tell their parents.
- Sweetheart or Romance scams involve a fake suitor wooing older adults and convincing seniors love and care is their motivation. Once trust is established, they get the victim to put the scammer’s name on property deeds and bank accounts.
- Unsolicited home repair work is a scam where con artists scour neighborhoods and go to someone’s house claiming repairs need to be done. They demand payment up front and then reveal a fake but more expensive issue. If any work is actually done, it is unlicensed and substandard, often causing legitimate real problems.
- Scammers use fraudulent legal documents and pretend to be a legal authority to get victims to sign over their property or will by intimidating or threatening them.
- Getting money or property through fraud is a tactic that scammers use by convincing the senior to sign over their homes or other property for their own good. Collecting fees or payments from a person’s social security is another tactic some con artists use.
How can you tell if someone is a con artist? Note the following indicators such as the person forces you to make decisions fast and may threaten you. They disguise their real numbers, using fake caller IDs. Con artists sometimes pretend to be the government (e.g. IRS). They go at length to try to get you to provide them with your personal information like your Social Security number or account numbers. They may offer prizes, lump sums of cash or free travel. If you are unsure is something is legitimate, ask a trusted friend or family member about it.
If you believe you received a fraudulent phone call, please hang up and call the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline at 855-303-9470.
If you believe you have been a victim, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it with someone you trust. Eldercare, a government sponsored national resource line, can provide Adult Protective Services in your area. Please call 800-677-1116 or visit www.eldercare.gov. You can also reach out to your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
Protect yourself and your possessions and help put an end to financial fraud.
“Your Journey. Our Passion.”
McCoy, Kevin, USA Today, “Are you a victim of these scams targeting seniors?” February 15, 2017.
National Council on Aging, Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Senior. www.ncoa.org
Repa, Barbara Kate, “Elder Abuse: Financial Scams Against Seniors,” www.nolo.com