“Senior scams” are basically scams that are targeted towards senior citizens, i.e., the elderly. They have become so common and prevalent that they are known as “The Crime of the 21st Century”. The reason for this is simple; senior citizens are thought to have a lot of money in their accounts, and they are considered easy and vulnerable targets. According to a 2015 study, senior citizens lose a shocking $36 billion (and higher) every year to financial scams.
This crime, unfortunately, often goes unreported or can be challenging to prosecute. Hence it is considered a low-risk crime. However, the repercussions can be devastating and leave the elderly victims in a very helpless and vulnerable position.
With so many crimes being targeted at senior citizens, it is essential to keep yourself and your loved ones aware and alert about these happenings. The most shocking fact is that many of the times, the scam is committed by the elderly victim’s family member. Immediate action needs to be taken to prevent this from happening.
Common Senior Scams
Following is a list of common senior scams and tips on how to avoid them.
1. The Grandparent Scam
This scam is simple to commit and frankly, quite heartbreaking. This is because it plays with the emotions of the elderly adult being targeted. Scammers get the phone number of a senior citizen and phone them pretending to be their grandchild. The process is quite foolproof. The simply call and ask, “Hey Grandma/Grandpa, guess who’s calling?” And the grandparent most certainly names one of their grandchildren in response.
The scammer than picks up this name and goes on talking, pretending to be that grandchild. And often, the grandparent easily falls for this trick. The scammer posing as the grandchild then goes on to talk about how they are in a tough financial position and need some help.
They request the grandparent to send them some money via Western Union or MoneyGram and tell them not to inform anybody else about this. If the grandparent complies, it is highly likely that scammer will call them again and pull the same trick.
Grandparents love their grandchildren and never want them to struggle financially. It’s sad that this very idea is being exploited by scammers in order to make money. Inform your parents and grandparents about this, and use these tips to prevent your family members from falling victim to this.
- Never send money to anyone unless you are 100% sure that they are part of your family. Scammers can easily find information about you and your family on social media, so just because they say a few familiar things, do not immediately believe them. First and foremost, if the call is from an unknown number, be extra cautious. Do not make a transaction unless you are completely sure.
- If you receive a call from your supposed “grandchild” asking for money, text them on WhatsApp or send them an email to double check if it was really them. If you have that particular grandchild’s actual phone number, call them and enquire.
- Ask the grandchild’s parents if their child is really in trouble and needs help.
- Put together a set of security questions related to the family that no outsider would know. If you feel suspicious of a caller posing to be your grandchild, ask them these questions to make sure they really are who they claim to be.
- Do not be embarrassed or afraid to talk about it to your family.
- If you have been a victim of this, contact Adult Protective Services. You can call 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website to obtain contact information:
2. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
This is also a very simple scam to carry out. The scammer simply calls or emails their target informing them that they have won a sweepstake or lottery prize of some kind. Then they say that a certain sum of money is to be paid to unlock the lottery prize.
Often, the so-called “prize money” is sent in the form of a check. This is because a check immediately shows up in one’s account, and it takes a few days for a fake check to get rejected.
This gives the scammer ample time to collect the fee paid by the targeted senior citizen and escape. The senior citizen will be left helplessly trying to remove the “prize money” from their account.
- Avoid giving out any financial details via phone or email
- Make sure your phone, email and bank account are well-protected with passwords and security pins.
- Shop on encrypted websites and avoid opening unknown, suspicious emails or SMSes.
- It is highly unlikely that you have won any lottery unless you have actually entered or signed up for such a contest. Be extremely cautious of emails, phone calls and text messages informing you that you have won a prize. If you haven’t entered any contest, it is highly likely that these are scam messages.
3. Mortgage Scam
Scammers often take advantage of the fact that most well-to-do senior citizens own their homes, which increases the value of a scam. A property tax scam related to this topic happened in San Diego. It involved the scammer sending personalized letters to the targeted senior citizens on behalf of the County Assessor’s Office.
The contents of this latter, made to look official and professional, stated that they would offer to arrange for a reassessment of the senior citizen’s property, in exchange for a certain fee of course. The process is made to look realistic as the scammer finds details about the target’s home on the internet and then sends a very convincing mail highlighting important details.
Hence, the seniors fall victim to this. Senior citizens’ unfamiliarity with virus protection and firewalls makes them more susceptible to such traps.
Here are tips to avoid this.
- Ensure that the company is real
- If you receive a letter from a particular company/organization, send them a follow-up latter to make sure that the letter you received was legitimate.
4. Medicare Scam
All US citizens over the age of 65 years are eligible for Medicare. This makes things that much easier for scammers. They don’t have to any extensive research and snooping around to find out what private health insurance the target senior citizens have, or whom their health-care providers are.
The scammer may pose as a Medicare representative to extract their target’s personal information, such as financial details and Social Security numbers.
Posing as a representative, they may tell their target that they need to renew their Medicare card or sign them up for fake medical services. These are claims that senior citizens can easily fall for. The scammer may also convince their target to pay a sum of money to renew their Medicare benefits.
- Protect your Medicare number with the same caution as your credit/debit card details.
- Do not share your health insurance details with anyone over the phone, SMS or email.
- Be wary of people trying to sell you something, or sign you up for medical service that they say will be paid for by Medicare.
- Go through your Medicare statements thoroughly. If you notice any suspicious activity, notify the concerned parties as well as the police immediately.
- Know that actual Medicare representatives will have your details and won’t have to ask you for any. If a supposed Medicare representative does ask you for obvious details, be wary of him/her.
5. The ‘Woodchuck’ Scam
This kind of scam is commonly targeted towards seniors who live alone. Scam artists will pose as contractors and offer to carry out home projects in the target’s home. They will eventually come with a bunch of bogus claims and fake repairs that need to be done immediately.
This is proven to be an easy way to gain the target’s trust. The scammer finally asks the target for a sum of money so that the so-called “home repairs” can be carried out. Simple scam to carry out, and seniors fall for it very easily so be cautious.
- Make sure the person doing work in your home is a professional.
- If they state that they come from particular, call that company to double-check if this is true.
- Carefully read the contract to make sure it is real.
- Internalize all the conditions, contract cancellations, and refund terms.
- Be in full control of all your purchases and transactions.
- Do not let anyone convince you into signing up for a contract. These are decisions that you must take on your own, using your own experience and intuition.
6. Telemarketing Scams
This is the most common scheme used by scammers to take advantage of older people. It is a fact that senior citizens make twice as many purchases over the phone as compared to the national average.
Many senior citizens live alone, so they don’t have anyone to help them out with such purchases so doing so via the phone is the most convenient for them. It just so happens that this makes it much easier for scammers to dupe them.
There is no face-to-face conversation or hard trail left behind, so these scams are extremely hard to trace. Also, if a senior citizen is successfully scammed by one person, his/her details will be shared with a network of scammers who are also on the lookout for easy targets. Here are some examples of scam calls you must be wary of.
a. The Pigeon Drop
In this type of call, the scammer calls and informs the target senior that he has found a large sum of money which he is willing to split, and requests the senior citizen to make a “good faith” payment to “seal the deal”. Often, an accomplice is involved who poses as a lawyer or banker to make the process convincing and realistic.
b. Fake Accident/Illness:
A scammer calls a target senior claiming that their child is in a life-threatening condition in the hospital, and they are in need of money to fund his/her treatment.
The scammer might call posing as a social worker or representative of an organization, and request to pay a sum of money towards charities. These scams happen a lot during and after natural disasters to make it convincing, so be wary of such calls.
7. Health Insurance Fraud And Selling Of Counterfeit Drugs
These schemes attempt to offer (fake) insurance cards, health insurance marketplace assistance, medications, supplements, weight loss products, etc. It is no secret that senior citizens take the utmost care of their health and always keep their eyes and ears open for good and affordable medical and health services.
Also, most elderly people all suffer from similar conditions that come with old age, which makes it easier for a caller. They carry research drugs and medication commonly used by the elderly, and use this information to make convincing marketing calls.
Scammers may also call offering free medical equipment, health checkups, and anti-aging products. Here are tips on how to avoid such scams.
- Never sign blank insurance claim forms
- Make sure to ask the medical provider what payment you will be required to make out-of-pocket.
- Carefully review your insurer’s explanation of the statement and do not hesitate to ask any questions.
- Avoid doing business with telemarketers or door-to-door salespeople.
- Share your medical information only to people and organizations who have given your medical services previously.
- Keep accurate records of appointments, checkups, and medical transactions.
- When in doubt, call your physician and ask if you really need a drug being offered to you by a salesperson or medical representative. If you stick to physician’s instructions and only buy medicines prescribed by him/her, there is no chance that you will fall into such a scam.
8. Internet Scams
This type of scam doesn’t involve any face-to-face communication and leaves no trail. It is very easy to carry out. Pop-up browsers and emails are used to scam the target by ‘phishing.’ Phishing is when scammers use fake emails and texts, or copycat websites to extract your personal information.
Sometimes they send an email, which when opened, could damage your computer and install ransomware. This would allow them to search through all important documents stored in your computer such as tax files, bank account information, etc.
Here are ways to avoid these scams.
- Be aware of ways you could be scammed on the internet, and avoid pop-up ads and unknown emails.
- Check your parents’ or grandparents’ accounts and bank statements for odd purchases and withdrawals. If you find any, ask them about it.
- Do not buy anything on impulse on the internet.
- If you receive an email about cheap medical treatment or medicines, do not opt for it without a thorough background check. If the email isn’t from your regular medical service provider or physician, it is better to avoid it altogether.
The most important thing to remember is that you mustn’t hesitate to talk about it. If you have been a victim of one of the scams mentioned above, do not be embarrassed to talk about it.
Inform your loved ones about, so that action can be taken to avoid it from happening again. Also remember that talking about it and taking action not only protects you but also generates awareness about it! Doing nothing might make the situation worse for you as well as your family.
Keep the phone numbers of your local police, bank and Adult Protective Services handy, so you can immediately call them if you feel suspicious or threatened. For contact information about the Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.
How To Avoid Such Scams?
- Don’t buy anything from, or reveal personal details to an unfamiliar company.
- Do not make any charity donation without doing extensive research about the organization the caller is representing.
- Obtain a salesperson’s name, telephone number, business identity, and address before making any transaction.
- If a call leaves you suspicious, go with your instinct and ignore all claims of the caller. Sometimes instinct can be the best judge of such situations. Even if it turns out to be a legitimate charity call or donation request, at least you’ve made sure that you’ve not lost anything.
- If you have information about a fraud call, report it to the police and federal law enforcement agencies.