Elderly scams

Senior Citizen Tech Scams - How To Keep Yourself And Your Loved Ones Safe 

Last updated on May 11, 2021

Financial scams that target the elderly are increasingly popular. This is because seniors are thought to have quite a significant amount of money from their lifelong earnings.

It is not just the wealthy that are victims of elderly scams though, even lower-income seniors are at risk. It is also not always random strangers that target these people, with as many as 90% of all reported scams committed by the senior’s family members. This includes adult children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.

Elderly Scams are Executed by Playing on Senior’s Emotions

There are countless scams out there targeting the elderly. Many of these crimes often go unreported (just one in 44), and are difficult to prosecute, so they’re seen as a low-risk crime. Consumer Reports states that as many as one in 10 American people over the age of 60 experience some type of abuse. This accounts for 5 million seniors on a yearly basis.

“A conservative estimate of annual losses is $3 billion, according to a study published in 2011 by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. In a 2015 study, the financial services company TrueLink put the figure at $36.5 billion. AARP reports that the average loss by a victim of financial exploitation is $120,000.”

According to the FBI, people from these generations are often too trusting.

“People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say no or just hang up the telephone.

Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.”

Medicare and Health Insurance Scams

Every citizen of the United States over the age of 60 qualifies for Medicare. This means that there is virtually no need for a scammer to research whether their target has private health  insurance to scam them.

When it comes to these types of scams, criminals have been known to pose as a Medicare representative. This way they can find out sensitive and personal information regarding the senior. Otherwise, they can also claim to provide fake services, using personal information to bill Medicare and then take off with the money.

According to the New York Times, this is an increasingly popular form of elderly fraud abuse.

“Since 2014, nearly 1.3 million reports have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission about callers pretending to be from the Social Security Administration, Health and Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service, the police or the F.B.I., according to a commission report in July.

Deceptive callers might tell victims that their Social Security numbers had been suspended, or that they owed back taxes and must pay immediately or face jail time. Usually, they require cash or a prepaid gift card as payment.”

Other types of health-related scams include the sales of counterfeit drugs. Many elderly people go online to find better prices for their specific medications. In addition to purchasing something that will not help their medical condition, victims might be paying for drugs that can inflict even more harm.

“Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.”

Telemarketing and Phone Scams

One of the most prevalent senior scams going around is the telemarketing scam. This is because seniors make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. Whilst it might be because these elderly people are lonely and find comfort in speaking over the phone, it might also be because they are much more familiar with shopping this way.

The attractive thing about phone scams is that there is no face-to-face interaction and such transactions lack a paper trail. Both of these factors mean that a telemarketing scam is terribly hard to trace. Once a scammer has successfully used their victim, they are also known to share the person’s details with other schemers often defrauding the same person on a repeat basis.

About eight years ago, elderly fraud abuse happened to Mildred Gedraitis, who in her mid-80s received a message notifying her that she won a new Mercedes. All that Mildred had to do was to pay the taxes on it and she could drive it straight home.

“That’s what the nice man on the phone had told her, anyway, and that’s what she informed Jay Bellanca, her nephew. Instead of a prize, it was the start of a long-term ruse involving wire transfers through Western Union to a man in Jamaica, whom Ms. Gedraitis had never met, only spoken to on the phone.”

Unfortunately, when she died at the age of 92 with severe dementia, Ms. Gedraitis had lost $350,000 to that fraud and was actually $190,000 in debt.

“My aunt would show up at a Walmart or a Tops store, hobble up in her walker with seven or eight thousand in cash to get a money order to go to Jamaica,” he said. “The problem is that elder folks lose some of their cognitive ability to identify things, and they get scammed.”

Elderly people are often unaware that these criminals will not take credit card payments, but rather ask for money to be wired to them directly.

“Often the only ones in a position to see what is happening in time to help stop a scam are the ones who are part of the payment process—the banks, gift card sellers, and others,” says George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, which is supporting the bill. “This is to make sure that those people are educated on the role they can play and what to look out for.”

How to Protect Yourself From Elderly Scams

#1 Just Say No

When it comes to telemarketers, as many as 80 percent of their calls are directed at older consumers. They prey upon the elderly who are well educated and are likely to have above-average incomes as well as being socially active within their community. Sales pitches include things like fake prizes, forged charities and phony investments.

If you find yourself targeted by such callers, never give out your credit card number or personal information like your date of birth or Social Security numbers over the phone. Remember that legitimate institutions won’t ever ask for this information via telephone.

If there are any doubts as to the legitimacy of the telemarketer you can always ask for the company’s details like their name, address and telephone number, where you can reach them at a later time.

Many telemarketing scammers target widows, so if you are one and the caller asks to speak to the man of the house, do not let on that you live alone.

Before making any large purchases make sure to consult family, friends or your lawyer, accountant or banker to get their advice on the matter.

You should also loon into unfamiliar companies with the Better Business Bureau, local consumer protection agency, and the National Fraud Information Center.

Also, always remember that you have the power of simply hanging up the phone when someone is relentless in attempting to sell you something you do not want. It is as simple as that.

#2 Don’t Invite Strangers into your Home

Door-to-door sales usually target the elderly and use high-pressure sales tactics to get what they want. Con artists will usually try to coax seniors into purchasing things they do not need including things like household cleaning supplies, living trusts, and encyclopedias. These individuals are usually very successful as they often come across with a sincere desire to help.

When dealing with door-to-door salespeople, you should never let them into your home. It is much more difficult to get rid of these people when they are inside your home.

If you are interested in purchasing their products make sure to ask to see their identification as well as their credentials. A serious salesperson will be equipped with a business card. If they fail to produce one this should raise some serious red flags.

Do not rely on any verbal promises and if you sign a contract make sure that it has all the necessary details like details regarding the purchase, signatures and the correct dates. Make sure you receive a copy of all the sales terms in writing. This should include the price, returns policy, warranty as well as all the conditions of sale.

If you change your mind, you have three days to get out of a door-to-door sales contract according to the FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule. This means you have the right to cancel your contract and receive a full refund until midnight of the third business day after the sale has been completed.

This is only valid if you have a signed contract and the sale is over $25. There doesn’t have to be a reason for you to cancel.

#3 Don’t Open Unknown Emails or Click on Strange Websites

Phishing attacks are one of the leading online attacks which also target seniors. Online elderly fraud abuse comes in various forms including unsolicited emails and social media messages. This is because a lot of the time many older people don’t know what warning signs to look for.

A scammer can impersonate a worker from a trusted organization like your bank and ask for you to share sensitive and personal information. Whilst you can sometimes spot these fraudsters, many have evolved far beyond using incorrect grammar and text-based phishing messages.

According to the latest Internet Crime Report from the FBI,

“In 2018, the IC3 received 20,373 BEC/E-mail Account Compromise (EAC) complaints with adjusted losses of over $1.2 billion. BEC/EAC is a sophisticated scam targeting both businesses and individuals performing wire transfer payments. The scam is frequently carried out when a subject compromises legitimate business e-mail accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques to conduct unauthorized transfers of funds. Through the years, the scam has seen personal emails compromised, vendor emails compromised, spoofed lawyer email accounts, requests for W-2 information, and the targeting of the real estate sector.

In 2018, the IC3 received an increase in the number of BEC/EAC complaints requesting victims to purchase gift cards. The victims received a spoofed email, a spoofed phone call or a spoofed text from a person in authority requesting the victim purchase multiple gift cards for either personal or business reasons.”

Know that no matter how authentic a website might appear, if someone is asking for your personal information like login credentials or credit card details, there is a high chance that something is amiss.

#4 Don’t Fall for the Online Romance Scam

While millions of Americans use dating websites and social media platforms to meet people, this is also a breeding ground for senior scams. Although many have forged successful relationships there are also those who use such sites to meet vulnerable elderly people.

Fake profiles are quickly created with other people’s photos and information taken as their own. All of this is used to create a fake online relationship and eventually convince people to send money to them. Love, as they say, is blind, which is why this type of fraud was the second costliest to people of all ages in 2018.

The Internet Crime Report states that these types of crimes accounted for as much as $362 million. As many as one in three victims have served as money mules, forwarding them proceeds from illegal activity to victims.

Criminals will take all the steps necessary to make it seem as though your relationship is the best it can be. Often you will be able to spot a fraudster taking things way too fast, telling you they love you within the first few meetings.

It is not surprising that romance scams are high on the list of senior scams as the elderly will often feel a sense of loneliness and this type of attention plays on their emotions.

Remember that any online love interest that requests money from you is almost certainly a fraud.

#5 Never Wire Money

The grandparent scam is the oldest trick in the book. It is very common as it appeals to an elderly person’s emotions, leaving them high and dry in the end. Scammers contact senior citizens pretending to be a grandchild of theirs, playfully asking the elderly person to guess which grandchild is calling. As soon as the victim responds, the perpetrator easily plays along acting as though they got it right.

This is when the scammer begins to confide in the grandparent, telling them just enough information to make their story plausible, but not enough for them to get caught. Often this will include some spiel about having financial trouble and asking the senior in question to wire them money via MoneyGram or Western Union.

If the elderly person complies with their request, they will most likely contact them again asking for more money, all of which is kept secret from the rest of the family.

You should never send money to anyone unless you know exactly who that person is. Scammers have a lot of information that can seem to verify their identity with just a couple of clicks on social media.

Make sure that it is, in fact, your grandchild calling by hanging up and contacting them on the phone, and also call the parent of that child and find out whether they are truly in trouble.

Speak to your family members on a regular basis and compile a list of questions that only you and they know the answers to. If there is an emergency, you can ask these questions and they will know the answers to them.

Lastly, never wire money, rather use a bank transfer. If it is your family members that are in trouble, they will not mind giving you their bank account details.

#6 Stay Safe Online

Elderly citizens can rely on a number of ways to protect themselves online. Cybercriminals are constantly developing new ways of scamming seniors out of their money, but just by following a few simple rules, you can always stay safe online.

Always install an antivirus program on your computer, as well as a firewall and make sure that these are up to date at all times. This will keep you free of malware, phishing scams, and other online threats.

A Virtual Private Network or a VPN will also keep you safe by creating an encrypted tunnel for your online data. This way it will be virtually impossible for fraudsters to discover your location and see what you are getting up to online.

Signs to Look Out for When Protecting Your Loved Ones

If you are caring for an elderly person there are some warning signs to be aware of indicating that they have been the target of elderly scams:

  • Look out for unusual charges made to their account including strange withdrawals, sudden use of their ATM card or a new person added to their contact list.
  • If the senior in question suddenly appears to be afraid, confused or unkempt.
  • If there are unpaid medical, mortgage, utility or rent bills despite them having an adequate income.
  • If a caregiver doesn’t allow for others to contact or communicate with the senior.
  • If they have a surge in magazine subscriptions or free gifts, they might be on a list of known victims shared with other fraudsters.

What to do if you are the Victim of a Scam

Even if you follow all of these tips, there is still a chance that an elderly scam targets you or your loved one. Here is what to do is you find yourself in that unfortunate situation.

Report the Crime

Scamming someone out of their money is almost always a criminal offense. Do not feel embarrassed that this has happened to you as it is very common.

Make sure to report the crime to the police and let your loved ones know what has happened. This way you can lessen the chance of it reoccurring and possibly stop it from happening to someone else.

Inform Your Bank

If you believe that you might have given your personal information out to a fraudster such as your bank details or security information, let your bank know immediately. This way they will be able to take the necessary steps to ensure your accounts are properly monitored and protected.

Look Out for More Scams

If you have been scammed in the past, chances are they will attempt to target you again. There are scammers out there which will pretend to be from a fraud prevention body that can recover your losses.

Know that such bodies will never make unsolicited contact with you unless you contact them first. If they ask for payment in return for their service over the phone or online, or even for your personal information it should raise some red flags.

Attempt to get your Money Back

There are always steps that you can take to try and get your money back, particularly if you have paid for something with a debit or credit card. While it might not be possible to get your funds returned in all cases, it doesn’t hurt to try.

According to the Money Advice Service,

“If you’ve done nothing to compromise the security of your account, then you should get your money back. But, this is not guaranteed.

Refunds can be delayed if the bank has reasonable grounds to think you have been grossly negligent with the security of your account.

If the bank’s investigation proves you were negligent, then you might be liable for all the losses.

Examples of negligence include telling someone your PIN, or password. However, banks cannot simply say because your PIN or password were used that the payment was authorized.

Banks can also refuse a refund if you tell them about an unauthorized payment 13 months or more after it left your account.”

Conclusion To Senior Scams

Senior scams are definitely on the rise all over the world. A lot of the time this happens because criminals are aware that the generations targeted are trusting. Playing up to their emotions, online, telemarketing, romance, fake lottery, and healthcare scams are just some of the ways these individuals are targeted.

In an attempt to stop elderly fraud abuse happening to your loved one, make sure you communicate with them regularly and inform them of all the possible ways people are targeted. Also, make sure your loved one is aware that a reputable and trusted organization will never ask for their information online or over the phone.

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