My goal with OnlineRetirementRevenue.com is to help retired people make money, save money and stay safe. In today’s world there are scams chasing us in almost everything we do. Many times we don’t realize it’s a scam until it’s too late.
In my 23 year law enforcement career I saw seniors fall victim to fraud and scammers many times. Criminals who victimize the elderly and retired people are a particularly despicable group of violators.
In this post I will discuss scam alerts for seniors offering some knowledge for your safety and protection.
What are the most common reasons seniors are scammed?
The tactics of this low life group of criminals comes in many shapes and sizes and they are getting more sophisticated all the time.
Scammers prey on older people because they tend to be isolated, are not as tech savvy as younger people, are more trusting, and many times have more money saved. Elderly women tend to be the most victimized.
Let’s look at the most common senior attributes that can lead to being scammed:
- Isolation – Seniors tend to be isolated from normal human interactions. This is evident when finances are not frequently checked by loved ones. By the time someone does check on their money the scam may have occurred long ago leaving it too late to do anything about it. Because of their lack of social interaction they become susceptible to a scammer who develops a friendly relationship with them.
- Money – A large majority of seniors have money saved up for retirement, government benefit resources and possibly pension funds. Scammers know this and will do whatever possible to get access to their personal finance information On the other hand, seniors may be living on a small fixed income leaving them vulnerable to gaining money quickly. Scammers engage in many get-rich-quick schemes that are just too good to be true. Without the knowledge of how to identify these types of scams, seniors lose thousands of dollars each year.
- Cognitive Reasoning Loss – As people age their cognitive reasoning skills diminish causing them to forget important life facts. This could include knowing how much money they have, remembering what bank they do business with, knowing the names of family members and friends. Scammers can easily talk these people into sending them money for a myriad of reasons. And, it’s possible for these criminals can even talk them into revealing personal information leading to identity theft.
- Greater level of trust – Scammers know that older people are more trusting than the younger generation. This is one of the reasons why scams are procured over a period of time so that a “trust” relationship can be developed. Once complete trust is earned a scammer has complete control over the situation.
- Guilt and embarrassment – Once a scam occurs many elderly people feel guilty about the crime, almost like it’s there fault it happened. They may also be embarrassed and remain quiet about the crime which leads to the situation not being reported. Also, there is a good chance they don’t know how to report the scam.
- Vulnerability – Many times a scammer will constantly badger an elderly person until they give into the crime. Once a scammer knows someone is vulnerable they will make threats about losing some form of support unless they pay for whatever the scam is demanding.
Now, let’s look at some common scammer characteristics:
- Creating friendship – Makes the victim feel at ease and plays on the level of trust gathered through their communication
- Credibility – The scammer may say they are with the government or some known banking institution to make the victim feel they are credible.
- Vagueness – In order to confuse the victim a scammer will change his or her story many times making it easier to succeed with the crime.
- Assistance – The victim may feel inclined to owe something to the scammer because they feel they were assisted in some way. This goes along with the greater level of trust I spoke about earlier.
- Instill fear – A common trait of scammers is to instill fear in the victim and at the same time making the situation seem like it is urgent. Because of vulnerability and reduced cognitive reasoning the victim gives in to the scam.
What are the most common senior scams?
According to the National Council on Aging these are the top ten senior scams:
Health Insurance Scam – These crimes are done by phone or door-to-door and the scammer usually poses as a Medicare representative and informs the victim they need their social security number or personal information to receive new Medicare policy information or identification card. They may even ask for a fee to be paid to continue their benefits.
Counterfeit Prescription Drugs Scam – This scam usually occurs online and it involves elderly people looking for discounts on their prescriptions. These prescriptions turn out not to be the authentic medicine the victim was looking for and may even cause more damage in the long run.
Funeral Scam – Scammers actually attend funerals, find relatives of the deceased and claim there was an outstanding debt that needs to be paid.
Recent real-life example: My neighbor’s mother passed away a month ago. The deceased husband died 40 years ago. At that time the couple purchased and paid for two cemetery plots.
Upon my neighbor’s mother’s death, the cemetery attempted to charge my neighbor an additional $3000 reporting that the final had never been made 40 years ago. My neighbor then had her mother cremated and did not deal with the cemetery.
Anti-aging product Scam – Not only is this scam ruthless, it can lead to serious health side effects. Some older people still desire to look young and using products such as Botox which if produced illegally can cause serious health risks or products which don’t produce any desired result at all.
At any rate, whether it causes a health issue or does nothing at all the victim will have spent money on nothing.
Telemarketing Scam – Phone calls to seniors are probably the best way for scammers to practice their criminal activity. Since many seniors don’t use cell phones, especially in their homes, they still use landlines for communication.
Online Scam – While not very tech savvy, some seniors are turning to the internet more and more for information, communication with friends and family and entertainment.
Scammers pose as tech agents advising seniors that their computer has a virus and to remove it they need to pay a fee. The fee is paid and the scammer moves on to the next victim without performing any service.
The greatest online threat to seniors comes via email. The victim receives a message from what looks like a credible company or financial institution asking the unsuspecting senior to update their personal information on their account. This leads to identity theft which is one of the leading results of online fraud.
To read more about online scams read my post titled, “A List Of Internet Scams – Retirees Beware“.
Investment Scam – A large percentage of seniors have savings or are looking for ways to plan for retirement by investing their money. Scammers entice seniors into investments that take their money for nothing in return.
Mortgage Scams – Because many seniors own their homes the value of the scam to the criminal is very high. Most prevalent in these types of scams are reducing tax burdens and reverse mortgages.
In a tax scam, the victim might receive notification that for a paid fee their property value could be reassessed and thus their tax burden decreased. Of course, after the fee is paid the tax burden stays the same and the scammer moves on to the next victim.
In a reverse mortgage scam, the scammer posing as some entity communicates with the victim knows they have available equity in their home and offers some service in return for an amount of that equity. The money is paid and no service is provided leaving the senior out of their funds.
Lottery Scam – The lottery scam has been going on for years. The victim receives notification ( usually a check ) that they have won some sort of sweepstakes or lottery. The scammer asks them to deposit the check in their bank account. It appears that the funds for this check are in their account.
In the meantime, the scammer asks for a fee for the prize they just won. The fee is paid and the scammer removes the prize money from the victim’s account.
Grandparent Scam – This scam plays on the high trust level of seniors. In this scam, a phone call is received by the grandparent from someone pretending to be a grandchild. Once the grandparent gives positive notification of which grandchild it is they are talking to, the scammer has made contact.
The scammer then asks for money because of some crisis that they are involved in to be wired to them. Then, they make sure the grandparent doesn’t notify their parents.
My research suggests that these are the most frequently reported types scams, however, there are many other variations of these scams and most likely some that I did not find. It’s obvious to me that scammers are very active and the number of these crimes increases each year.
What can seniors do to protect themselves against scams?
There are steps seniors and their family members can take to avoid scams. Let’s look at some suggestions to keep seniors safe from scammers:
Tips for seniors:
- If someone has presented you with a great deal on something like prescriptions, free trips, or investments and it seems to good to be true, it most likely is. Do not agree to anything until you’ve researched the person and the company they represent.
- If someone is trying to sell you something to get more information from you, especially anything pertaining to your identity, just ignore them.
- Do not answer emails or ads from unknown sources online.
- No governmental agencies will attempt to get you to pay a bill using an ad on the internet.
- Some good rules of thumb are, if you don’t recognize a phone number on your caller ID, don’t answer the phone. If you don’t recognize the sender of an email, don’t open it. If you don’t recognize the person at your door, don’t open it.
- Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed to report an incident if you think you have been scammed.
Tips for family and friends:
- Remind seniors of ways they can be scammed online and often check on their bank and retirement funds to make sure there have been no bogus withdrawals or purchases that they would never make.
- If a senior discusses a good deal they made like plans for an upcoming vacation, check on the deal and discover if it’s real.
- Visit the senior in person and ask about all of their bills and how they are getting their prescriptions filled.
- Advise seniors not to make impulse purchases on the internet.
- Get more involved in your senior’s personal lives.
Where can I find statistics about scams?
The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network is your best source for statistics about scams. Click here to see the Consumer Sentinel Network’s Data Book from 2018.
Inside this PDF document, you will find statistics about all kinds of fraud, scams, and crimes involving identity theft.
Here are some screenshots from this document showing reports of scams by age and the top 10 fraud categories. Note the categories involving people over the age of 50 and especially over the age of 70.
How can I report scams?
As you can see in the graphic above, seniors don’t report scams very often. This is a statistic that needs to change in the future. Below you will find resources where scams can be reported:
My Final Thoughts
I hope that my information concerning scam alerts for seniors has given you a good perspective on just how important it is for not only seniors but their family and friends to know how to identify, avoid and report scams.
Criminals are becoming more and more sophisticated each year. Seniors need to be educated about scams and the people who commit these crimes. They also need to know it’s ok to report scams and to not feel embarrassed if they have fallen prey to one of these deviant criminals.
Please feel free to share my post on your social media platforms and leave me comments concerning your thoughts about senior scams. I will answer comments as soon as possible.