Fraudsters are targeting senior citizens more than ever. Are your grandparents safe? A recent federal investigation found that more and more senior citizens are being financially exploited by swindlers. In 2010 alone, people over age 60 lost nearly 2.9 billion dollars in financial fraud schemes. The threat to senior citizens is real, but the good news is that you can help!
What makes senior citizens so vulnerable? It’s not just age-related problems like memory loss. Con artists target the elderly for several reasons:
Elderly people often have more money. With their children grown and mortgages paid, seniors can be very flush with disposable income. A lifetime of hard work also means retirement bonuses, investments, Social Security and other savings. Seniors usually have better credit, too.
Seniors, on average, are less familiar with technology. A phishing email or other electronic hoax that seems obvious to younger people might fool someone who doesn’t have as much online experience.
Seniors can also have trouble saying no. For the over 60 generation, social etiquette is very important. When middle-aged or younger adults get a survey phone call promising free Caribbean cruises or other incentives that are too good to be true, most just hang up. Some seniors keep listening to be polite – and they might not understand that the free offer is a sign of a deceptive scheme.
If they do become a victim, elderly people may have trouble reporting it. No one likes to admit they’ve been exploited, but senior citizens may be afraid to go the authorities. They don’t want anyone to question their ability to take care of themselves. In other cases, seniors do want help. They just don’t know who to turn to. (Submit complaints on Scambook, the Federal Trade Commission, a private lawyer and/or law enforcement.)
For these reasons, it’s important to know what red flags we should all be particularly weary of. Here are a few basic tips to protect yourself and the people in your lives you care so much about.
ALWAYS STAY INFORMED, AND…
Be familiar with medical bills and insurance policies. Some criminals use fake health insurance claims to cheat the elderly. Keep accurate, dated records of all medical appointments and transactions. When in doubt, call your loved one’s doctor or insurance provider.
Research before you and your loved one buy or invest. If you or your senior relative is planning to make a big purchase or a new investment, make sure to do some homework! Research the product, the service and the company. Legitimate organizations will have customer reviews and other information online. Search Scambook to see if anyone’s filed any complaints.
Ask questions, get more information and wait. This is extra important if you or your loved one is speaking to a telemarketer. Always obtain a salesperson’s name, phone number and extension, address and any applicable license numbers. Don’t give in to pressure for special deals or one-time offers. When there’s money involved, it’s always better to be patient and think things over.
NEVER COMMIT IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, AND…
DON’T buy prescription drugs from unsolicited emails or websites that don’t require prescriptions. It’s always better to get medicine from a doctor’s office, hospital or brick-and-mortar pharmacy like CVS and Walgreens. If you need to order online, use extreme caution. Make sure the online pharmacy displays the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS) seal, which means the site has been approved by the Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the United States.
DON’T sign a contract without reading it, or sign a blank form. If a contract requires a signature, a Social Security number, a bank account number, credit card number and/or other sensitive personal data, make sure you and your loved one review it carefully. Question the source, too. If your relative didn’t request the forms and you’re not sure where they came from, they will definitely want to be on high alert.
DON’T accept unsolicited “free” prizes, gifts or vacations – especially if you’re asked to pay for shipping, taxes or other fees. Identity thieves and con artists use this ploy to obtain bank account numbers and credit card information. Remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Above all, stay informed and talk to the seniors in your life. Make sure your aging relatives and friends know they can trust you. Be respectful and educate your elders.
At Scambook, we constantly hear from elderly people victimized by fraud and identity theft. We hope you’ll share these tips with your loved ones today and help keep seniors safe from harm and hardship. Don’t let scammers ruin the best years of one’s life — the golden years!
Greenberg & Bederman, LLP. “Senior Scams on the Rise“. Retrieved 6/25/12.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Fraud Target: Senior Citizens“. Retrieved 6/25/12.