Financial scams against the elderly are on the rise — and getting more sophisticated. Whether you’re looking to protect yourself or others, it’s important to stay informed about the methods that scammers use to swindle people out of their money.
Romance scams are one of the most common ways for fraudsters to target elderly people, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Romance scammers make a fake social media or dating site profile to build trust with their unsuspecting (and perhaps lonely) victims. Then, they strike by requesting money for a made-up emergency or travel expense. The Federal Trade Commission notes that these scammers typically ask their victims to wire money or send it via gift card because these types of transactions are difficult to trace or reverse.
Per FinCEN, person-in-need scams are a widespread method for defrauding seniors. For this scam, someone will call or send a message to the target, pose as his or her relative (usually a grandchild) and pretend to need money for a personal emergency or a sudden financial issue. The National Council on Aging points out that the scammer will usually request payment via wire service and ask the senior not to tell anyone else about the fake emergency. This scam is especially effective because it plays on the victim’s natural desire to help a loved one facing an urgent crisis.
Prize or lottery scams
Many seniors are parted from their money via prize or lottery scams, according to FinCEN. In these scams, targets are informed that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes. They might even receive a fraudulent check in the mail. The catch: in order to redeem the prize, the “winner” needs to send in some sort of fee or tax. By the time he or she realizes the prize is fake, the scammer has already grabbed the fees and vanished.
The NCOA lists a variety of other scams frequently aimed at the elderly. Medicare and health insurance scams collect a person’s personal information and use it for fraudulent medical billing. Counterfeit prescription drug scams peddle fake or even dangerous products online. Telemarketing scams use an array of strategies to cheat seniors through misleading sales calls. Internet scams trick victims into downloading a virus or steal their personal information via email “phishing.” Some scams feature phony investment opportunities or even con the victim into borrowing against his or her home equity.
Tips for preventing scams
If you’re part of the senior demographic, it’s important to stay on your guard against these scams. The NCOA recommends signing up for the Do Not Call list, carefully researching all unsolicited offers and reaching out to trusted friends or relatives if you need assistance. You should also avoid giving out personal information (like credit card, Medicare or Social Security numbers) over the phone unless it’s a call you initiated yourself.
If you’re looking to protect the seniors in your life from scams, Consumer Reports suggests several ways to help. Calling or visiting regularly will allow you to keep tabs on their safety. You can also take steps to stop or limit unsolicited mail and phone calls. You may even be able to arrange protection or oversight for important financial accounts.
Financial scams represent a significant threat for seniors. However, by taking the proper precautions and cultivating awareness, you can shield yourself or your loved ones from those who seek to victimize them.