Community Blog

Senior Scams: The Crime of the 21st Century

By Debbie Humphrey

It only took moments in the beginning of an incoming call from an unknown number to wreck the elderly woman’s bank account. It only took her simple acknowledgment of “yes,” that set the entire fraud in motion to drain her bank account.

I heard about this on the news and firmly believe we all need to review the dangers of senior scams, which always leave them increasingly more vulnerable and often totally broke.

The Federal Trade Commission saw fraud complaints involving Americans age 60 and older rise as much as 47% from 2012-2014, and estimates that this fraud has cost seniors anywhere from $3 billion to $30 billion dollars, collectively. Those are huge statistics that clearly indicate the negative impact of senior scams, but most certainly affects us all.

You may know someone like the woman I depicted above who has experienced a phone scam. A recent study shows that 1 in 20 seniors have admitted to being financially abused. In fact, according to the National Council on Aging [NCOA], financial scams targeting seniors has become so prevelant, that they are now considered the crime of the 21st century.”

The reason senior scams run rampant is because older, retired adults have managed to save good money for their retirement years, they often live alone, they are trusting, they are vulnerable, and in some cases, they have declining mental health.

However, scams don’t simply target wealthy or comfortable seniors. They can devastate older folks with very little left to sustain them in the twilight of their lives.

Here is the NCOA list of top ten scams that plague seniors:

Medicare/Health Insurance Scams – Perpetrators pose as Medicare representatives to get personal information; or they provide bogus services at false clinics to gain the personal info to bill Medicare, and pocket the money.

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs – Most commonly seen on the internet, this game targets seniors who shop for better priced medications online. The scammer’s set-up will not only take the buyer’s money, but they can send unsafe substances that can inflict harm to the body, not just the bank account.

Funeral & Cemetery Scams – There are two ways this occurs: A) Scammers seek obituaries to attend funerals, concoct phony debts the deceased owes and preys on widows/widowers and family members to settle the fake debt; B) Disreputable funeral homes add unnecessary charges, or encourage purchases of expensive caskets or services, only to pad the bill(s).

Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products – Vanity affects older adults as it does younger ones. Americans, male and female, go in search of products to help them look younger, which puts them at risk for scams. Whether it’s bogus Botox or a “homeopathic” remedy that does absolutely nothing, seniors are certainly at risk of being taken for a ride. Furthermore, a bad batch of Botox can cause severe health consequences that far exceed skin wrinkles and droops.

Telemarketing/Phone Scams – The most common of scams, these are the most recognized and perpetrated because many seniors are twice as likely to make purchases over the phone rather than on the internet, and they are usually alone and vulnerable. With no facial recognition or paper trail to track down the scammer, this is usually the most difficult to solve. Moreover, when personal info is shared, and a scam is successful, that senior may be targeted over and over again in various ways.

Internet Fraud – Many seniors are not internet savvy, and they are unfamiliar with the less visible aspects of browsing the web, fake anti-virus software, and other traps. Emails and pop-up windows with fake links are also problematic, no matter what your age! Everyone needs to stay vigilant about arbitrarily clicking links to prevent hacking and viruses.

Investment Schemes – Since older adults do more to enhance their financial prowess through investments, these seniors can fall prey to scammers who supposedly want to maximize and protect their investments, only to learn their money is gone. From pyramid schemes to false claims of inheritances and fake financial products, seniors are scammed regularly out of their “investments.”

Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams – Scammers like to find people of older ages who own their homes to increase the dollar value of certain scams, especially when older adults “unlock equity in their homes.” Be careful of people that pressure seniors to consider or apply for reverse mortgages or who could benefit from the borrower accessing equity, like home repair companies and service providers.

Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams – We’ve all heard of these. Scammers call with big news about a senior having won a lottery or sweepstakes prize. They just have to give the scammer personal info about their bank account and collect a handling fee of what can be hundreds to thousands of dollars, to unlock their winnings. Of course this will take several days, so this gives scammers a chance to drain the account.

The Grandparent Scam – This is really simple, devious and disgusting, because it involves the heart and emotions of the victim. Scammers will call an older person pretending to be a grandchild with an unexpected financial crisis. They request money be sent via Western Union or Moneygram (because they don’t always require identification), and they beg the “grandparent” not tell their “parents,” or punishment will most certainly ensue.

Out of sheer concern and necessity, the caregivers I employ at Home Helpers are well-versed in a combination of ways to help prevent senior scams. They will happily assist with opting out of annoying, and often fraudulent, phone calls, and direct mail solicitations by going online to specific websites that provide the services. Plus, they can show you what NOT to do with suspicious emails and pop-up windows.

Moreover, caregivers can research contractors for you online through the Better Business Bureau, Angie's List, and state licensing websites. They will always make sure a contractor you hire is licensed and bonded, and they will advise you to never pay for services up front. Caregivers can also answer "unknown" calls and request your phone number be added to "Do Not Call" lists.

It's important that seniors not isolate themselves by frequently staying home alone. We can provide transportation and companionship to keep seniors active and social, out and about!

I strongly advise seniors to seek assistance from a trusted family member who can oversee financial matters and bank accounts to monitor for scams or fraudulent activity. An Elder Attorney will carefully advise about finances and investments, in the event you are hospitalized or incapacitated for periods of time.

Don’t be taken advantage of by scammers! Keep yourself and your bank account safe and secure by staying cognizant of the ways of thieves in this world. Never hesitate to reach out to schedule a FREE consultation to discuss your needs and concerns.

Home Helpers® proudly serves male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Contact me today to learn more about the many services offered through Home Helpers® We are Making Life Easier℠ 727.972.2539

Source: National Council on Aging