Better Safe Than Sorry: How to Avoid Common Senior Scams
Every year, thousands of seniors fall victim to scams that prey on their fears, goodwill and charity. According to the FBI, senior citizens are often the targets of these scams because they are less likely to report a fraud.1 This is usually because they don’t know who to report it to, are ashamed of being deceived or are unaware that they have been tricked.
For this post, we have identified a few popular scams that target seniors so that you know what to watch out for.
The Department of Justice estimates that dishonest telemarketers bring in about $40 billion each year.2 Scammers will usually get seniors on the phone, and because many seniors may be lonely or don’t want to seem rude, they listen to the scammer’s pitch. Furthermore, seniors are more likely to make a purchase over the phone than younger people are.3 There are many tactics that a scammer may use, including:
- Tricking a senior into believing that they have a family member who is in trouble and needs money immediately
- Telling the senior that he or she needs to act now to get the reward
- Telling the senior that he or she has won a free prize, but that the senior needs to pay for shipping and handling
- Lying that the money is going to a charity (this one is especially frequent during the holiday season)
- Callers will sidestep questions about their business (legitimate businesses will always be happy to answer questions)
If you think that the person on the other end of the line is not legitimate, then hang up as soon as possible.
Medicare scammers will frequently pose as government agencies or other organizations over the phone in order to get access to your personal information. Do not trust calls from people who purport to be with government agencies. Medicare almost never calls. On the rare occasion that they do call, they will not ask for any financial or personal information. They also will not visit your home and try to sell you products.
A few tips to avoid Medicare fraud include:
- Protect your Medicare number and your Social Security number. Be very careful about when and who you give it out to.
- Use a calendar to record all your doctor appointments and what tests you get. Then check your Medicare statements to make sure that each service listed and all the details are correct.
- Always make sure you understand how a health plan works before you sign up.
- Don’t be swayed by any kind of advertising or salesmen that swear they have your best interest at heart.
- Have all legitimate Medicare contact information handy
If you believe that somebody is committing Medicare fraud, then you should report that person immediately. When reporting somebody, make sure you have the following information:
- The provider’s name and any identifying number you may have
- The service or item you are questioning
- The date the service or item was supposedly given or delivered
- The payment amount approved and paid by Medicare
- The date on your MSN
- Your name and Medicare number
- The reason you think Medicare should not have paid
- Any other information you have showing why Medicare should not have paid for a service or item
Family & Friend Scams
We’ve already mentioned that some scammers might pose as family members in order to coax seniors out of their savings. However, a senior’s family or friends could be the ones perpetrating the scam. These people will usually try to manipulate the senior into giving them money. This is common if the senior is isolated or depends on the family member or friend. The friend or family member may also get power of attorney over the senior’s finances. With this, the scammer can access the senior’s savings and spend without restraint. This is especially dangerous if the senior has dementia or is otherwise incapacitated.
It can be hard for authorities to learn when this scam is happening. Many seniors are reluctant to turn in their friend or loved one. They may also feel shame or embarrassment about being scammed by a family member. The scammers could also isolate the senior, so others won’t learn about any financial exploitation. It’s important to remember that there are options to combat senior financial abuse from family and friends, and that the earlier the authorities are contacted and the scam ends, the better for everyone.
You hear a knock at the door. You open it to find a roofer, electrician or landscaper with hat in hand, telling you that they have been doing some work in the area and noticed that your house could use a touch-up. What might sound like a convenience and a good deal is likely a scam. Repair scams happen when these people do not perform the service they have said that they have done. When this happens, call the police.
Repair scam can also happen with the mechanic. A mechanic might look at a senior as an easy target, and grossly overcharge them or recommend repairs that a car does not need. If you believe that something is suspect, then speak to a younger loved one or get a second opinion on your car. Also, ask the person for their contractor’s license and references.
Phishing scams are usually fraudulent emails that seem to come from legitimate organizations. These emails then get you to divulge private information, usually by directing you to a website that appears safe. Once they have your personal information, they are able to commit identity theft. Identity theft can be devastating, draining a person’s hard-earned savings and damaging credit scores. Repairing the damage wrought by identity theft can take years. Even opening a phishing email can result in computer viruses, which are costly to repair.
One way to avoid getting caught in a phishing scam is by not clicking on a link or downloading information unless you are absolutely sure that you know who the sender is. Also, do not email any personal or financial information. Keeping your personal information secure online is of the utmost importance.
Who to Call if You Suspect Something is Wrong
If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, we suggest you contact your local authorities as soon as possible. Even if it is a false alarm, it is better to be safe than sorry. Signing up on the FCC’s Do-Not-Call registry can also cut down on the number of potential scammers who will call you. This can be done over the phone at (888) 382-1222 or online at donotcall.gov.
Senior fraud affects millions of people across the country. Fraud victims should not feel ashamed if someone has taken advantage of them. Contacting the authorities is the best way to make sure these people can’t harm anyone else. If you have any tips for fighting senior fraud and scams that we haven’t touched on, please share in our comment section.