As much as we like to believe that people are good, the unfortunate reality is that there are a lot of not-so-nice apples out there. While scams and cons have been going on since cavemen roamed the earth, these days it seems like you can’t turn around without hearing about a brand new scam that you need to be worried about. “Everyone is at risk of falling for a scam, but unfortunately, senior citizens are the ones who are targeted the most,” says Janna Zaidspiner, Director of Community Relations at YourLife™ of Palm Beach Gardens, an Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care community in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. “Seniors aren’t always aware of the many ways they can be exploited. Many seniors are also lonely, isolated or have some cognitive issues such as dementia, which makes them a prime target.” Even if they are aware, she says, seniors are less mentally or physically able to stop the exploitation from happening. Many times the person doing the scamming is one of the senior’s own family members. And because financial scams are hard to prosecute and often go unreported, criminals often get away scot-free, leaving the senior vulnerable and with no time to recover from the loss. “If you’re a senior or the family member of a senior, it’s very important to educate yourself on the different scams out there and how to stay safe from them,” says Zaidspiner. “Being vigilant and taking steps to protect yourself are the best forms of defense against con artists.”
The Top Scams Targeting Seniors
According to the National Council on Aging, there are a variety of different ways seniors can be targeted. While there are seemingly countless variants of scams out there, here are the 9 most common “types” of scams to watch out for.
- Medicare/health insurance scams In this type of scam, seniors will be approached or called by someone posing as a Medicare representative in order to get their personal information. In some cases, perpetrators set up “mobile clinics,” provide bogus medical services and then use the seniors’ personal information to bill Medicare and receive the money.
- Counterfeit prescription drugs Seniors going online to find better prices on their prescription medications can be tempted by rock bottom prices. However, the “medication” they receive is either fake, or worse, a dangerous substance that could cause major health issues.
- Funeral & cemetery scams There are two types of these scams. In the first, scammers will connect with a surviving spouse and attempt to collect an “outstanding debt” that the deceased had racked up with them. The second scam is more insidious. Less-than-respectable funeral homes will add additional and unnecessary charges to the funeral services (such as insisting that a casket must be purchased for a cremation), relying on the surviving family members’ grief and unfamiliarity with the industry.
- Fraudulent anti-aging products Youth is beauty, and it’s no surprise that many seniors look for new ways to minimize the effects of age. This leads to non-regulated labs shilling remedies that do absolutely nothing except drain away money, or developing versions of real medications (like fake Botox) that can have serious health consequences.
- Telemarketing/phone scams These are some of the most common scams out there and some of the most successful, since there’s no paper trail, no face-to-face interaction and a high likelihood of “repeat business” (that is, if a successful deal has been made, the senior’s name gets shared with other scammers as an “easy target”). Some examples of this type of fraud include: The pigeon drop, where a con artist tells the victim that they have recently come into a huge sum of money and will split it with them if the senior makes a “good faith” payment through their bank account. The scammer then uses the information to drain the individual’s accounts. The fake accident, where a scammer gets the victim to send money (usually overseas) because a family member is in the hospital or otherwise incapacitated and needs money immediately. Charity scams, where scammers pose as fake charities to get donations. This happens frequently after natural disasters.
- The grandparent scam In this scam, a con artist will call a senior and say something similar to “Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?” The grandparent will guess a name (“Is this John?”) and the scammer will confirm that, yes, this is John. At that point, the scammer will ask for money for some emergency (like bail money, car repairs, etc.) which needs to be sent by MoneyGram or Western Union, along with a plea to “not tell my parents.” While it’s not usually a large amount, often just a few hundred dollars at the most, this is a very easy scam to get away with.
- Internet fraud These scams take advantage of older people's’ unfamiliarity with technology and the Internet in general. They can take the form of pop-up windows with “alerts” saying that the user’s computer is compromised and they need to immediately download a particular program, which is actually a virus that hacks the computer. Email or phishing scams are another version of this type of fraud, which is where an individual is sent an email from a bank or other institution, asking the individual to update their information or click on a link to view or download a document, which results in the senior’s personal information being hacked or stolen.
- Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams These scams are complex and convoluted, relying on the fact that many seniors own their own homes and may have interest in actual services like a (legitimate) reverse mortgage. There have been property tax scams, home repair scams and a variety of other fraud cases that revolve around the idea of identifying a homeowner’s equity and using that to pay for an unneeded or unnecessary service.
- Investment schemes Retirement and savings planning is top of mind for seniors, which has made investment fraud a highly seductive scheme for many, many years. These can be everything from a Nigerian prince looking for someone trustworthy to help him claim his inheritance money to wide-sweeping cons like Bernie Madoff’s pyramid investment scheme.
8 Tips to Avoid Scams and Keep Seniors Safe
The best way to keep senior loved ones from being scammed is for caregivers and family members to remain alert, learn the signs of scamming and educate their loved ones. Here are eight tips to help reduce the risk of a senior in your life from being taken advantage of:
- Check in on them regularly, and maintain a good relationship with them so they feel comfortable talking to you about their life. This can allow you to ask if they’ve had any suspicious visitors, calls or letters.
- Talk to them about the various types of scams, and explain that it’s important to never just give out personal information to someone who’s asking, even if the individual sounds like an authority figure.
- Remind them to ask for proof, because genuine companies and agencies understand the need to be cautious and will always be able to provide proof of who they are. If a “government agency” calls, have seniors ask for them to send an official letter. If they get an email from a bank asking for information, have the senior call a bank branch near them to verify that it’s genuine.
- Let them know it’s okay to call back or wait before responding. Explain that if the person asking for information gets agitated or says they need it immediately, it’s a scam. Genuine companies or callers will let you call back after speaking to someone you trust.
- Practice delay tactics. It’s easy for seniors get flustered or frightened if someone puts pressure on them. Give your loved ones phrases they can use, like “I need to discuss this with my family” or “I only give money to charities I’ve researched.” Remind them that they can always simply hang up the phone or shut the door if they feel they’re being pressured.
- Install safety measures. Peep holes or intercoms are great tools for helping seniors feel safer. They use these to ask questions of the person without having to open the door.
- Put your loved ones on the Do Not Call Registry. While this won’t get rid of all the telemarketing calls seniors get, it can decrease the amount significantly.
- Sign seniors up for Internet classes, which can help them build confidence, learn more about the Internet and become more savvy about potential scams.
Finally, it’s a sad truth, but there are lots of scammers out there, and it’s possible that you or a loved one will be scammed even if you follow all these steps. If that happens, it’s important not to be embarrassed or afraid to talk about it. There are people who can help, and you are not alone. For more information about scams targeting seniors, how you can protect yourself or a loved one or how we can provide a safe, fulfilling life for a senior in your life, please contact our team at YourLife™ of Palm Beach Gardens at 561-246-6102.
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Offering independent living with supportive care, assisted living and memory care, YourLife™ of Palm Beach Gardens was designed specifically with residents in mind. We know your life is shaped by family, friends, hobbies, passions and more, so we’ve created a community where you can enjoy comfort, independence and engagement, all while having the peace of mind of 24-hour support and the freedom to define your own lifestyle. Here, we shape each thing we do around you, from your routines and interests to your choices and preferences, to create an inspiring lifestyle that fits YourLife™ perfectly. Because we are completely shaped around you, our residents get more of out their lives. With exceptional care delivered by a dedicated and compassionate team and a fulfilling lifestyle full of choice and convenience, residents have the support they need to live as independently and engaged as possible. Each day holds something new for residents. Whether they are enjoying our exclusive activities, learning something new or simply engaging in our YourStory programming, we create an individual experience centered around each resident. Do you enjoy making new discoveries and trying new hobbies, simply want to continue the hobbies you love or enjoy some time to yourself to relax? At YourLife™ of Palm Beach Gardens, the choice is up to you.