Scams Target the Elderly
Everyone is vulnerable to scammers, on the phone or on the Internet, but the embarrassment caused when you fall for a scam often prevents people from speaking openly about their experiences and warning their peers. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to financial scams because those perpetrating the fraud assume that, after a lifetime of work and investment, seniors have significant amounts of money saved up in their bank accounts.
It’s not just wealthy seniors who are targeted, if the scammers even have an accurate concept of wealth (overall net worth of retirees has declined significantly); low-income adults are also at risk of financial abuse. Here is a list of common scams to help you avoid becoming a victim:
1. Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud
Since every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over 65 is qualified for Medicare, scammers rarely have to research private health insurance companies. In these kinds of scams, perpetrators may pose as Medicare representatives to gain personal information, or provide bogus services for elderly patients at makeshift mobile clinics and then use the personal information provided to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
2. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
These scams are most commonly on the Internet, where seniors go to seek out lower prices for specialized medication. Unfortunately, many of those drugs are counterfeit and can lead to serious health problems as they will not help the medical condition they are being sought for. These scams are rapidly on the rise – since 2000 the FDA has investigated an average of 20 cases of prescription drug fraud per year; in the 1990’s the average was 5.
3. Funeral and Cemetery Scams
There are two main types of fraud the FBI warns about. In one, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a stranger to take advantage of a grieving widow or widower by claiming the deceased owes them a debt. In the other, disreputable funeral homes try to take advantage of grieving spouses unfamiliar with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary expenses to the bill.
4. Telemarketing Scams
Seniors are often more familiar and comfortable making purchases over the phone, which puts them at particular risk for telemarketing scams. Telemarketers use a number of techniques to make fraudulent sales or obtain money over the phone including “The Pigeon Drop,” in which a con artist agrees to split a large sum of money with a person if they make a “good faith” payment first (a second scammer may be involved posing as a lawyer, banker or other authority figure); the “Fake Accident,” in which a scammer asks for money to be wired on the pretext that the person’s child or relative is in the hospital; and various charity scams in which over-the-phone payments are solicited for fake charities.
5. Internet Fraud
Seniors are increasingly Internet savvy, which is a wonderful thing, but the slow speed of adoption makes them easier to target for automated scams. Pop-up windows posing as virus scanning software either fool victims into paying for fake anti-virus programs or an actual virus that will transmit the information on a computer to the scammer. Seniors are also particularly at risk for email/phishing scams which solicit personal information through fake emails made to look like they are coming from a legitimate company asking for verification.
Other common scams include investment schemes like pyramid schemes or the Nigerian prince emails, reverse mortgage scams and refinancing scams, sweepstakes and lottery scams and, perhaps most personally and painfully, the Grandparent Scam in which a stranger calls up posing as a grandchild and asks for money to be wired to them.
The good news is the more you know about what scams you may be vulnerable to, the better you can protect yourself. For more information on scams targeting seniors and how to recognize them, visit the National Council on Aging.