Constructed scams, or cons (short for confidence tricks), can be traced as far back as ancient Greece. The tricks have evolved since that time. They’ve also grown in numbers. Sadly, our elderly population now bears the brunt of the targeting. According to the FBI, American seniors rack up $3 billion in losses annually. That’s the bad news.
The good news is along with the increase of scams there is also an increase of information regarding them. The goal here is to provide you with the most crucial intel, so you can recognize these scams and properly protect yourself.
Before we discuss the what and how, it’s important to understand the why. Knowing the reasons you’re being targeted is the first step in protecting yourself
For starters, seniors are more likely to not be working. This means they are at home more and less preoccupied than the younger population. Considering most scams come by way of telephone and internet, scammers have a much easier time getting hold of you.
Many seniors own their home, have financial savings and very good credit. All of which makes them very attractive to a scammer. It’s unfortunate to think that someone could feel so entitled to something you’ve worked your entire life for, but it’s a reality you need to know about.
Trusting and polite are positive attributes of people raised in gentler times. Unfortunately, they’re also attributes allowing scammers to occupy your time and attention, thus improving chances of a successful scam.
According to the FBI, elderly Americans are less likely to report fraud. Some may not know how. Others are too ashamed. There are also seniors who are afraid their family won’t believe they’re still able to manage their personal affairs. When seniors report a crime of fraud, many are confused as to what exactly happened and have a hard time providing details to investigators. All of this makes for a low-risk crime for the perpetrator.
Scams can be divided into two main groups – short term and long term. The difference between the two lies in the amount of time they take to set up. Short-term scams are quick to enact and usually one and done. Long-term scams take longer to establish and involve either a larger sum of money, or many small sums defrauded over the course of time.
The following are 10 of the more popular scams targeting seniors today:
Medicare – since every person over the age of 65 qualifies for Medicare, it makes for a popular phone scam. Typically, seniors get contacted by a caller claiming to be a Medicare representative. Once the caller obtains their personal information, he or she will bill Medicare for fraudulent services.
Funeral – scammers use obituaries to contact grieving family members, usually claiming the deceased has an outstanding debt that needs to be paid immediately.
Grandparent – scammers call a senior and begin the conversation with the following line, “Grandma/Grandpa, do you know who this is?” Once the senior gives up a name, the caller assumes the identity and asks for money, usually as either a gift card or a wire transfer.
Sweepstakes/Lottery – a popular mail scam, it can also be perpetrated via the internet or by phone. In this scam, a senior is contacted by someone claiming to be a lottery or sweepstakes official. The perpetrator tells the senior they’ve won money but must send money to unlock the prize. Sometimes the senior is mailed a fraudulent check. In the time it takes the bank to reject the check, the senior has already sent money.
Mortgage/Home Repair – a perpetrator will contact a senior claiming to be able to either reassess the value of their home or make repairs to it. The senior sends money but never receives the service.
Charity – playing on the senior’s compassion and goodwill, a caller will pose as a representative of a known charity. Typically, a current event, such as a natural disaster, will be used to either direct the senior to a fundraising page on a crowdsourcing site or request an immediate payment in the form of a gift card or wire transfer.
Romance – this is a long-term scam, one that can rob a senior of much of his or her savings. Perpetrators utilize social media to act as love interests, typically living in another country. Over the course of time, money is requested for travel visas, the cost to travel to the US, or even a fake medical emergency.
Counterfeit Prescription Meds – this scam is especially cruel as it advertises inexpensive medication that turns out to be fake. The senior realizes he or she has been duped when they don’t get relief for their condition, or even worse, contract additional health issues.
Phishing Emails and Texts – seniors are sent either an official looking email or text from what appears to be a well-known company. The correspondence either asks for personal information or provides a link for the senior to click. In the case of the former, the damage is obvious. In terms of the latter, the link installs a virus that extracts pertinent information from the victim’s computer or phone.
Government Imposter Scams – a popular scam as of late, a perpetrator calls pretending to be official from the IRS or FBI. Often, the impersonators spoof the official number or call from Washington D.C area code of 202. Once again, personal information is found out and used to extract money from the victim.
Sadly, the list of scams doesn’t end there. The key to keeping yourself safe is to stay vigilant, stay informed and question everything that comes your way unsolicited. In terms of staying informed, a search for scams on FBI.gov is a great start. Additionally, MyHealthAngel.com, offers a live event called Tech Hour, featuring an expert who offers the latest information regarding technology, both how it can be used to your benefit and against you. And lastly, trust your instincts. They’ve gotten you this far. If something doesn’t seem right, there’s a very good chance it isn’t.