Don't Get Scammed! Scams and Cons That Target Seniors

Scamming seniors is big business. Fraud schemes by con artists have devastated the lives of more than 7.3 million Americans over the age of 65. The reasoning is simple. Americans near and past retirement have more assets. In fact, more than 50% of American owned assets are owned by seniors. It's no wonder that 30% of the successful fraud market is directly targeted at older baby boomers and seniors.

Targeting the life savings of someone who has saved money for an entire lifetime provides a lucrative outcome for the successful con artist. Crafty con artists prey on seniors not only because they are profitable targets, but easy targets as well. Seniors are usually home, they tend to answer the phone and have a more lenient schedule, so they are not as likely to hang up. Seniors worry about finances and are more easily duped with "get rich quick" schemes during times of financial strain. Add to that, some seniors are alone, away from family or loved ones, and may spend more time looking for interesting ideas and activities to keep them busy. With age, people become kinder or more trusting of others, and perhaps more likely to believe a person who appears to need help. Seniors who have deteriorating physical or cognitive skills are even more vulnerable. Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that only about 1 in 100 cases of senior fraud are ever reported.

Caregivers, shady sales people and scam-artists are the most common offenders. Statistics show that cases of caregiver fraud are on the rise. Seniors can have unusually close relationships with those who are entrusted to help care for their needs, enabling caregivers to scam unknown amounts of cash from seniors. These types of scams can go on for years unnoticed. As long as the victim doesn't suspect or believe that their caregiver would hurt them, and doesn't report the fraud when they do discover it, the fraud continues.

Phony sales people and scam artists resort to intimidation, fear, and authority to secure their fraud. There are many types of schemes out there, and they are evolving every day. The perpetrators devise more sophisticated methods as authorities break-up, arrest and notify the public of on-going scams. Scams can be as simple as a mailer, or as dangerous as armed assault. By understanding different types of scams you can protect yourself from becoming a victim. In this article for Seniors For Living we will give you information on 3 different ways seniors are targeted. At the end of the article we will give you a link to the full article on Boomerater for other types of scams.

The Jury Duty Scam

One of the most insidious scams circulating today preys on people who just want to be upstanding citizens. In The Jury Duty Scam the mark (aka victim or target) receives a phone call from an authoritative-sounding individual who informs them there is a warrant out for their arrest for failing to appear for Jury Duty. The unassuming mark is (1) frightened by police action (2) devastated that they did not respond to the government's mandate to appear for jury duty (3) confused that maybe their mail has been lost or stolen (4) eager to do anything to rectify the situation and prove they are law-abiding citizens. At this point the caller becomes even more authoritative, but will also act sympathetic, offering to help the senior a way to avoid being arrested : "I don't want you to be arrested, but my records show you have broken the law by not showing up for jury duty, even though you have received government notification on at least two occasions. But let me see what I can do… I'm not supposed to do this, but your voice reminds me so much of my mother/grandmother/etc. I don't want to see you get into trouble.. First I need for you to confirm your full name and address…O.K. that's what's on the court order.. Now I'm going to flag that there may be a discrepancy in this court order. The last thing I need is your social security number - that will allow me to process this as an error in our government database system. It will also let me clear your name from our delinquent arrest list, so this doesn't happen again." It's easy to see how anyone could fall for this scam. And those that do become immediate victims of identity theft, just for trying to be upstanding citizens.

The Distress Plea

A prevalent email scam making its way across the country is from someone claiming to be an old friend or family member sending a desperate plea from a foreign country. He and his family (girlfriend, roommate, etc.) have been robbed while traveling. They lost everything: money, passports, and airline tickets. They are emailing you to ask you to mail funds to help pay for their airline ticket home, on a plane scheduled to leave in just a few hours. (The author of this article received such a request last week, supposedly sent from London. The name on the friend's email was identical, but instead of originated through Earthlink, it had come from a Gmail address.) A variation on this is a grandchild calling to say they have been arrested and need bail money. A grandparent who has not heard their grandchild's voice recently may fall for this one while trying to help out the family. Do not send money! A quick way to know if a phone scam is legit is to ask a question to the caller that only your relative would know (not dates or addresses.) At this point the scammer will probably hang up. Before wiring money anywhere call a trusted family member or your lawyer to have them investigate the legitimacy of any such request.

The Parking Lot Nightmare

Here's another way you can easily become a victim. You've been shopping at the mall and return to your car with your packages. You put everything in the car, start the engine and prepare to back up. …When you notice a flyer taped to your back window is obstructing your rear view. You get out to remove it, and when you do the carjacker hops in and drives off in your car. Hopefully you only lost your purse and purchases… not a grandchild secured in a car seat.

Burial Expenses Fraud

This one was submitted by a Boomerater financial advisor: After a distant relative of a client had passed away the client received a call asking for financial help in paying for the burial expenses. The caller asked him to wire money to a bank account "set up for this purpose". Fortunately the client called another family member and learned it was a scam. This scam preys on the victim's familiar relationships and the desire to help out in a crisis situation. Also, remember that during a funeral or memorial service, someone should stay in the home of the family of the deceased. Unfortunately funerals present easy opportunities for home robberies.

The ATM Scam

ATM Scams can work one of two ways. (1) The con artist will stand nearby and observe the account number and password. After the senior leaves the ATM, the scammer moves in to duplicate the transaction. Or (2) The victim is physically robbed as they leave the bank.

Sweepstakes and Lotteries

The angle is not complicated when it comes to these con games. The scammer uses previously collected phone numbers and addresses to call or mail until he or she finds a "taker" who will listen to their tale. The victim is told that they have won some high value prize or an irresistible amount of money. They are then given a contact number, or forwarded to the "prize award officer" who informs the mark that they must pay an upfront processing fee or that they must pay taxes and other miscellaneous fees before they can collect their winnings. These "fees and taxes" can be thousands of dollars and can be disastrous for someone on a fixed income. These scams make use of excitement and a congratulatory tone to effectively make off with the senior's savings.

The Ponzi Scheme or Investment Fraud

This scam works by promising an unrealistic return on an investment. The victim is told that this is an "exclusive opportunity unavailable to the general public," that they have been chosen to participate for some made up reason that will appeal personally to them. Of course, there is never any return, and the victim will be unable to contact the "investment manager" who called them. Scams like these are prevalent among seniors, who are concerned they may not have enough money to last their lifetime, and seek ways to plump up their personal accounts.

Product or Merchandise Fraud

These are door-to-door scams where a scammer approaches a senior at their home, or a public setting like a park, and offers counterfeit or fake merchandise for an "unbelievable price." The merchandise, such as gold chains, expensive watches, handbags etc., may seem to be real, but will later fade, tarnish or break revealing it to be a fake. The victim will not have paid much, but it will be far more than the piece is actually worth.

How to Avoid Being a Victim

There are a few precautions you can take to lower your chance of being victimized. The simplest way is to assume that everyone, particularly seniors, will be a victim at some point. This assumption will prompt more caution on the part of seniors and they may not be as likely to say, "yes" to a potentially harmful situation. Another thing to remember is that if it's too good to be true it undoubtedly is, so don't be a victim, don't get duped. Always take a few extra moments to assess the situation and question the details in full. Letters promising outrageous "once in a lifetime opportunities" are just mail scams. Real prize award companies will not ask for financial information or require processing fees up front, so never send money to groups or unknown individuals that state otherwise. Use banks and ATM machines in public places with as much security as possible, inside and out. Going to the ATM late at night is never a good idea no matter what age you are. And always protect yourself in the parking lot be it at a bank, a shopping center, or any other location.

Where to Report a Case of Fraud

This article covers just some of the scams and schemes that target seniors and is not meant to be all inclusive. If you feel you have been the victim of fraud of any type, there are agencies that can help. These are a few places where you can find out more information, or report cases of fraud:

Federal Bureau of Investigations fraud unit

Better Business Bureau (on senior fraud)

Fact checker listing common schemes