In America, seniors are the #1 target for scams and fraudulent activities. It’s a tough fact to swallow. Even those of us in the senior care industry find these acts and the people who commit them hard to imagine. And yet thousands of dishonest men and women – as well as shady corporations – dedicate themselves every year to defrauding the elderly.
A number of factors make seniors an easy target for scammers. Many seniors have built up a so-called “nest egg” to support them through retirement, which makes successful frauds lucrative for scammers. Seniors also tend to be easier to manipulate. They might have trouble saying no, have emotional vulnerabilities that make them easy to exploit, or suffer from physical or mental decline that leave them feeling powerless or easily confused. Seniors are also less likely to report fraud to the police, making them safer targets for scammers.
The first step to avoiding elder fraud is knowing the most common schemes. The FBI has a publically available list of the most common scams and frauds committed against the elderly, which has since been expanded by the National Council on Aging. Here is a short summary of the most common scams used to target seniors:
- Medicare Fraud. In which scammers pose as Medicare agents to extract personal info.
- Counterfeit Prescription Drugs. Common on the internet, where seniors price-shop for cheap alternatives.
- Anti-Aging Scams. Some scammers peddle in pills, supplements, and/or lotions that claim to help fight aging’s physical or mental effects.
- Bereavement Scams. Scammers search obituaries, then target bereaved seniors (in person or by phone), pretending they were owed money by that person’s spouse.
- Funeral Home Scams. Some shadier funeral homes will exploit a widowed person’s emotional vulnerability to tack on extra, unneeded services and costs.
- Lottery & Sweepstakes Scams. Scammers using this scheme will tell seniors they have won a cash prize, but then insist a cash deposit must be made in order for the prize to be collected.
- Investment Schemes. From advance fee scams to pyramid schemes, investment scams are common and require shrewd judgment for anyone to avoid.
- Reverse Mortgage Scams. Home equity conversion mortgages, also known as HECMs, have proven lucrative for scammers, who use illegitimate mortgages to transfer a home’s equity to their own names.
- Telemarketing Schemes. Telemarketers sometimes con seniors into donating money to fake charities (especially after natural disasters), or pose as one of the senior’s relatives, asking for money. Some telemarketers will also sell junk products or services using manipulative – though sadly legal – sales practices.
- Internet Fraud. Internet use among the elderly is increasing, exposing more and more seniors to email and phishing scams.
Avoiding elder fraud starts with common sense, but it’s worth noting that many of these schemes are designed to short circuit good judgment. The best protection is taking steps to make sure your loved one isn’t made a target. This can be done by protecting personal information, shredding or locking up any documents with important info on them, keeping your home secure at all times, and avoiding phone or internet purchases. It’s also worth being aware of your Do Not Call rights. You can call either 1-888-382-1222 or go to www.donotcall.gov to report violators.
For seniors, one of the most valuable shields against fraud is having someone to turn to, whether that’s a child, a friend, or a senior care worker, like the staff at Visiting Angels. A trusted confidant can then provide sage advice and act as a sounding board for any shady situations or offers.