Scams Targeting Seniors at Home

It is a sad fact of life that some in our society try to take advantage of those less fortunate or less able to fend for themselves, or even those who are simply in a different stage of their lives. Seniors are often the target of scams aimed at defrauding them. No matter how smart of savvy someone is, they can still fall victim to a scam. Luckily, many scams have been identified. Unfortunately, seniors are often harder hit by these scams, as they have sometimes amassed a lifetime of earnings that, if taken, cannot easily be replaced. However, there are ways to stay safe and learn to identify, if not completely avoid, scams and frauds for seniors.

Common Scams

There are many scams aimed at seniors. Some include impersonating a government official, promising that the senior is the winner of a contest or lottery that they often never entered in the first place, legal scams, and investment schemes. These are just a few of the most common scams aimed at senior citizens. Several groups publish lists of the most recent and relevant scams every year, and seniors should stay up to date on new scams and tricks without living in fear of them.

Resources:

National Council on Aging: Top 10 senior financial scams targeting seniors

Identity Theft Resource Center: Scams targeting the elderly

Government Official Impersonation

One of the most common scams is impersonation of a government official, like a police officer, IRS officer, or even a utility company worker. Everyone gets a little nervous and apprehensive when approached by an authority figure, but these scammers use that apprehension to call seniors and tell them blatant lies about both who they are and why they’re calling. Most will ask for information before giving any credentials, but most legitimate companies and organizations will not proceed this way. Also, some agencies, like the IRS, do not call people unless they are called first, so most calls that claim to be from the IRS are not to be trusted until they are proven to be authentic.

Resources:

IRS: IRS reminds seniors to remain on alert to phone scams during tax season

United States Department of Justice: Senior scam alert: IRS and tax scams

Online Surveys/Coupons/Prizes/Sweepstakes/Lottery

It’s a great feeling to win anything, but especially if it is a giant check, a house, or car! But seniors should be especially wary of these types of prizes because they may either be fictional or come with major strings. Online surveys and coupons are another type of scam that can target seniors by asking them to pay to participate or by adding them to targeting lists when signing up. Seniors can help avoid this by double checking the authenticity of any “checks” received as a prize for a contest they might have won and by only using trusted sites to take surveys or acquire coupons.

Resources:

FBI: Sweepstakes fraud: senior citizens targeted

The Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson: Avoid survey scams

Email/Phishing Scams

Many seniors are very proficient with email and technology, but email and phishing scams can still be a real worry. Emails can be easily faked to look more official than they are. In fact, many financial advisors and banks refuse to take requests for money via email due to high occurences of email scams, insisting that the client call in and speak to a staff member to verify their identity.

Resources:

AntiPhishing.org: Consumer Advice and Resources

Experian: Scams that target seniors, what to know and how to protect yourself (and your loved ones)

Telemarketing Scams

Telemarketers are people too, but their job has to be one of the worst. This is especially true for those posing as fake agencies, businesses, or giving away fake prizes. We all get annoying calls but seniors can be especially targeted by telemarketing scams. Seniors should avoid giving any personal information to anyone who calls unsolicited.

Resources:

American Bar: Scams that target seniors

Federal Trade Commission: FTC stops mass telemarketing that defrauded U.S. seniors and others out of millions of dollars

Medicare/Health Insurance Scams

Healthcare, especially in America, can be difficult to navigate. Medicare, for example, has several different parts, some which are required, that are applied for and used at different times. Scammers may try to take advantage of the confusion surrounding medical coverage and try to sell unofficial Medicare or health insurance. A good rule of thumb is that if it appears too cheap or good to be true, it usually is.

Resources:

AARP: Meet the face of fraud

Medicare.gov: Resources

National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association: The challenge of health care fraud

Investment Schemes

Many seniors have sizable investments from a lifetime of retirement saving and earnings during a time when the cost of living and education was higher. These sums are often the target of scammers, who present investment schemes that promise to multiply money at an astounding rate. Seniors should seek the advice of a trusted or well-respected financial advisor before making any major investment decisions.

Resources:

SEC: A guide for seniors

Alan Wilson South Carolina Attorney General: How senior citizens can avoid investment fraud and abuse

Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage

Most seniors have paid off their mortgage and the thought may occur to use their homes for equity. In some cases, like with a home equity line of credit, this may be a good idea and should be discussed with a trusted advisor or financial professional. In most cases, however, things like a reverse mortgage are designed to be impossible to pay off and result in the loss of both home and equity. These may seem great, but are usually too good to be true.

Resources:

Consumer Reports: Reverse mortgage fraud and other new scams target seniors

The Attorney General of Texas Ken Patton: Reverse mortgage offers

Romance

It is sad that people will try to steal money almost any way, including by pretending to have feelings or emotions for someone that they really just want to use. While it can be hard to be skeptical of love, it is wise for seniors to turn to trusted friends or advisors if any doubts or suspicions arise.

Resource:

Forbes: Online romance scams are fleecing more Americans

General Tips to Stay Safe

Generally, seniors should avoid giving out personal information, sharing details of investments, and believing offers that come from quasi-official sources or sound too good to be true. Although it is unwise to be constantly suspicious or fearful, a healthy caution is important. Keeping information secure, like keeping passwords in a password protected document versus a handwritten list, is another way to stay safe. Also, following the news about new scams and taking the time to verify information can be very helpful.

Resources:

Connect Safely: The senior’s guide to online safety

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Cyber tips for seniors

Tips for Identifying Potential Scams/Fraud

Is it too good to be true? Usually, unfortunately, that means it’s a scam. You can also tell that things are a scam if you don’t want to talk about them with others. This is sometimes an internal signal that there is a threat. More tangibly, anyone who asks for your personal information in an unsolicited call, email, or letter is either not following procedure or may be trying to scam you. Finally, avoid using simple passwords or keeping sensitive information online where it may be found.

Resources:

United States Senate Special Committee on Aging: Fighting fraud

Better Business Bureau: BBB identifies the top three scams affecting senior citizens

Resources for Victims

Although there are many tips to stay safe, anyone can fall victim to a scam. It is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Luckily, there are resources to help victims of scams and fraud. While it is, of course, better to avoid these problems in the first place, there are dedicated resources to help in the event that you fall victim to nefarious intentions of a scammer.

Resources:

National Adult Protective Services Association: Elder financial exploitation

U.S. Department of Health and Human Service: Elder justice

Colorado Coalition for Elder Rights and Abuse Prevention: Fraud resources