It’s an unfortunate fact that seniors in all income brackets are common targets for scams. Scammers often figure that seniors have money or resources and taking advantage of them comes with little risk. They think seniors may not report crimes out of embarrassment or fear of relatives doubting their ability to control finances, and they may encounter hassles if taking legal action. Seniors also may react emotionally and quickly help someone who claims to be struggling because they have been there and someone helped them. There is good news though – there are lots of actions seniors can take to spot, avoid, and deal with scams.
Empower Yourself: Identify, Prevent, and Recover from Scams
There are so many different types of scams out there – and the people behind them are not always strangers. While being friendly, giving, and generous are great qualities for a person to have, for personal safety and security, it’s important for one to be able to discern the questionable from the pure of heart. It’s equally important for seniors to set themselves up for success online and offline by having safeguards in place to make it more difficult for scammers to carry through with deceitful plans. For those who have become victims of scams or of helping a dishonest person, there are actions that can be taken to reclaim security.
Recognize a Scam or a Dishonest Person
There are certain scams that commonly target seniors. Often they involve:
Contests and Lotteries: A scammer will contact a senior to say that they have won a contest or lottery, but to claim the prize, a payment is needed. The senior is then sent their winnings, typically in the form of a check that will eventually bounce, and by then the scammer will have taken off with the senior’s money.
Counterfeit Prescription Drugs: In-person salespeople, ads, or emails target seniors with low-cost prescriptions. These drugs may not be safe. Make sure to get medication through your medical provider and a state-licensed pharmacy in the U.S.
Fake Family Requests: Callers will pretend to be a family member and ask for money for school, rent, bills, a hospital visit, etc. They will ask for it to be delivered in such a way that identification is not required for them to accept the money. They may reach out from a phone stolen from the said family member. To safeguard against such a scam, ask the caller to verify their identity by asking them several questions only they would have the answer to, such as a small detail from an experience you both shared or private information you told them in confidence in the past (not things like their school, birth date, or mother’s maiden name). If you trust they are who they say they are, make sure to only transfer money through a means that requires identification checks. It takes an extra step to contact a bank or service to check, but it is worth it.
Funeral Scams: When someone passes and their obituary is in the paper or online, scammers may try to approach senior family members regarding outstanding debts. Make sure to do your own independent research and reach out to other family members and companies on your own to verify information.
Health Insurance and Medical Items: There are various insurance or medical-related scams. A popular one involves a scammer pretending they work for Medicare as they know that U.S. citizens 65 and older qualify. They will offer a service that appears real so that they can bill Medicare and keep the money. They may also fish for personal information and use that, or try to sell a medical device whose accessories are not mentioned, but are expensive and necessary for the device to work.
If a health insurance representative or caller contacts you and is pushy or makes you feel the need to justify saying goodbye, let them know you will research information on your own and contact companies through your own means. Don’t give them any personal information. Once the interaction is over, follow through with what you said. Make sure you are the one who researches and supplies the contact information to yourself and reach out to the insurance organization to see if they, in fact, tried to contact you, and alert them of the interaction. If you need assistance with this process, that’s fine, but turn to someone you trust very well to help you.
Reverse Mortgage and Refinancing: These scams use ads and in-person interactions to prey upon seniors about lowering their mortgage payments. Avoid them by researching your own mortgage lenders or help. Don’t pay attention to ads about mortgage-help or relief.
A Few Areas to Research Before Becoming Involved or Responding:
- Charities – especially after a natural disaster has occurred
- IRS and Tax Communications
- Retirement Planning and Savings Management
- Sales Pitches (via phone, email, or your door). For reputable companies that offer home services, ask a trusted friend or neighbor, or turn to Angie’s List or Yelp to research reputable businesses based on reviews.
Take Action Before Scammers Do
Knowing what is out there and being able to avoid walking into situations is a big part of the battle against senior scams, but there’s a lot more that can be done.
- Firstly, know that you can fall prey to a scam, no matter who you are. Phone scams alone cost Americans about $9.5 billion in 2017. Once you accept that it can happen to you, be smart. The next couple of action items are especially helpful in that regard.
- Check and verify information provided to you.
- Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.
- Report suspicions and worries to more than one individual who you trust.
- Report encounters that you feel may have been scam attempts. Do so through contact information you have gathered yourself or through a very trusted individual.
- Be safe when using the internet. Avoid sharing on your Facebook that you are going to be away from your house for a vacation, day in the country, hospital stay, or to watch someone else’s children, pets, or home. Wait until you return home to post about a vacation or where you have been. Also, be careful when letting someone publicly know you’ll be at an event they are throwing. If the public on a social media site knows your friend is having a party at 2 pm on the 16th and you’ll be there, they could try to research your address.
- Save your account information and passwords securely, and change them often. Also, don’t store them in a place that is easily accessible.
If You’ve Been Scammed, Reclaim Your Power
Victims of scammers often feel angry, upset, frustrated, embarrassed, and/or guilty, but it’s important to take action. If you feel you may have been scammed or are at increased risk for being scammed, there are actions you can take:
- In identity theft cases, log a report with the Federal Trade Commission. They have a whole list of recovery steps that can be followed depending upon what occurred.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records.
- Contact your bank and let them know what happened if you feel any of your financial information is at risk.
- Report a scam company to the FTC, the Better Business Bureau, State Attorney General’s Office, and the Secretary of State.
- Contact the National Fraud Center regarding phone or internet scams.
- Place a call into the non-emergency line of your local police department.
- Let a close, trusted friend or family member know.
Try to Stay Positive
Whether you’re seeking to simply take preventative action or you’ve been scammed, it’s really important to remember to stay positive. Preventing scams may seem time-consuming and you may think it’s a hassle to take a bunch of action when nothing has happened. Just remember, the payoff is peace of mind, safety, and security.
Looking forward may be hard to do if you’ve been taken advantage of, but it’s important to try. Understand that it’s not your fault, forgive yourself for trusting the wrong person, and confide in those you can trust about how you feel. A strong support system can be invaluable for helping you to recover emotionally (and for leading the happiest, healthiest life you can). Know that you are not alone – financial exploitation is elder abuse and by some estimates, 5 million older adults are abused annually. Mourn what was taken from you – be it a sense of security, trust, friendship, money, time, space, or property, but don’t dwell in the past. Try to focus on activities that bring you happiness, and on moving forward.
Check out These Additional Resources for Support
Note: Each individual should follow the advice of their financial professionals. This post is for informational use only and should not be considered personal financial advice.