Scams targeting seniors

You’ve probably heard about, or experienced first-hand, a scam intended to defraud seniors. Because senior citizens are thought to have large amounts of money sitting in bank accounts, they are usually the prime target for these scams.

Review this list of the top 10 scams targeting seniors so you can help yourself or a loved one avoid being taken advantage of.

Instructions: Click each phrase to learn more.

The grandparent scam

Typically, the grandparent scam works like this: a perpetrator calls a senior on the telephone and whispers or mumbles phrases designed to get the senior to reveal a grandchild’s name. For example, the caller may say “Grandma, it’s me!” or “Grandma, is that you?” Once the perpetrator has the grandchild’s name, he or she will impersonate the grandchild and claim to have lost a wallet or been in an accident. Then, the perpetrator will ask the senior to wire money to the perpetrator — which often doesn’t require identification to collect.

Medicare/Medicaid fraud

Medicare’s universal coverage makes it easy for perpetrators to pose (either on the phone, in person, or via email) as Medicare representatives and ask seniors to provide personal information which they can then use to set up accounts or apply for credit cards.

Sweepstakes and lottery scams

This scam is usually perpetrated with letters, phone calls, or email. Whatever the form, the message will say something like “Congratulations! You’ve just won a lottery!” with a request to deposit a large amount of money into your personal checking account. However, you need to immediately wire a portion of the funds to a foreign account to cover various taxes and administrative fees.
 
Tips: Legitimate lotteries pay taxes directly to the government rather than being reimbursed from winners’ proceeds. It is against U.S. law to play a foreign lottery by mail or by telephone.

Counterfeit prescription drugs

Many seniors, because of health care costs, will shop around online to find the best price for their prescription drugs — and this is where scam artists might rip them off by providing counterfeit drugs. Not only will the senior citizen lose the money, but they will receive drugs that may actually harm their health.

Funeral scams

There are two different types of funeral and cemetery fraud to watch out for. First, a perpetrator will read the obituaries or attend a funeral to find the contact information for a widow or widower. Then, the perpetrator will claim he is owed money and continue to extort the grieving victim.
 
The other scam is perpetrated by disreputable funeral homes that pad the already large cost of funeral services and add in unwarranted charges. Both scams usually are perpetrated in person.

Service scams

You receive a telephone call from what seems to be a legitimate company. There are problems with your account and the company simply needs to verify some information. The caller seems to already have information about you so you feel comfortable sharing additional information, such as your account number, to help the company correct the problems with your service.

Fraudulent anti-aging products

Preying on an older person’s desire to look (and feel) younger, scammers can create bogus anti-aging products or remedies that do not halt the aging process or even conceal the effects of aging.

Home equity scams

Unscrupulous people working in real estate, financial services, or related companies may use reverse mortgage scams to steal equity from the property of senior citizens. In many of these scams, seniors are offered free homes, amazing investment opportunities, or assistance with foreclosure or refinancing in exchange for their home’s deed.

Nigerian letter fraud

In one of the most common financial frauds of all time, a senior citizen receives a letter, an email, or a fax from a foreign “dignitary.” The correspondence promises huge monetary rewards in exchange for helping an official from a foreign country out of an embarrassing legal problem. All the senior needs to do, the correspondence states, is to send a small amount of money (in comparison to what he/she will receive in turn) to help out the foreign dignitary. Of course, the victim never receives any rich reward and loses the money that is sent.

Internet fraud

These scams include a call from someone claiming to be from a large computer company asking for permission to access the senior’s computer remotely to resolve a service issue or virus. The perpetrator then accesses saved data on the computer, such as names, addresses, account numbers, and other personal information. They use the information to apply for loans, credit cards, or to steal the senior’s identity.

Phishing

Phishing is usually a two-part scam involving emails and spoof websites. Fraudsters, also known as phishers, send an email to a wide audience that appears to come from a reputable company. This is known as a phish email.
 
In the phish email, there are links to spoof web sites that imitate a reputable company’s web site. Fraudsters hope to convince victims to share their personal information by using clever and compelling language, such as an urgent need to update information immediately or a need to communicate with you for your own safety or security. Once obtained, personal information can be used to steal money or transfer stolen money into another account.

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