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How To Prevent Elderly Scams

How To Avoid Elderly Scams

First published by the Pacific-Palisadian

Each year, loved ones in our vulnerable senior communities fall victim to financial scams that prey on trusting natures, welcoming spirits and potential knowledge gaps regarding new technologies. A report released by AARP notes that, “Older Americans who were exploited by family, fraudsters and others in recent years suffered an average loss of $34,200.”[1] Identifying and combating the most common sources of elderly fraud has never been more important than now. 

The Most Common Elderly Fraud Scams

The US Department of Justice, FBI, National Council on Aging (NEOA) and other prominent organizations note a consistent rise in elderly schemes depriving our seniors of hard-earned income and savings. Below are the most popular scams targeting our elderly communities, how they work, and what to do about them. 

The Grandparent Scam 

This scam involves someone posing as a loved one, typically a grandchild, who makes an urgent plea for financial help, and requests not to contact the parents because of embarrassment. It’s quite common on both email exchanges and phone calls.

A fake caller may open a phone call with, “Hi Grandpa, guess who?” When the grandparent guesses with a family name, the caller has established a fake identity and will build on this. The goal: Get “grandpa” to discreetly send money via bank transfer.  

Steps to Help:

  • Consider an internet firewall, anti-virus and anti-spy software. Then keep that software updated. 
  • Be cautious with all email attachments. 
  • Generate your own “security questions” like banks do and ask, “just verify it’s you, what’s your mother’s birthday and the name of your new puppy?”

The Medicare Scam

Seniors over 65 qualify for Medicare. Scammers will pose as fake health insurance reps from Medicare. They may ask you to verify account info, pay a balance that does not exist or even set up fake mobile clinics, book you for services that do not exist, and bill Medicare with the information they’ve stolen. 

Steps to Help:

  • Never share your Medicare number when someone calls you. When this happens, tell them you will call them back. Then dial the exact phone number on your Medicare card.
  • Do not accept offers for gifts, money or medical care. Scammers will ask for your Medicare number in order to process your gift. 
  • Keep accurate records of all healthcare appointments and double-check your statements. 

Contest Giveaway Fraud

Congratulations! If you’ve received an email or phone call about a sweepstakes or lottery win, be on guard when they ask for “fees and taxes,” common to lottery winnings. They’ll claim that once you send payment for fees, you’ll receive your prize.

Criminals may also send seniors an award check to be deposited. The funds from the check will indeed appear temporarily in the online bank statement, but they will not have cleared yet. It’s during this time gap you’ll receive a phone call asking you to pay the clearance fee for your funds to be released. 

Steps to Help:

  • Create an additional email address used exclusively for sweepstakes entries.
  • You’ll need to verify tax information before claiming a prize of more than $600 in the US. If they skip that step, it’s undoubtedly fraud. And of course, verify the legitimacy of the organization before handing over your tax info. 

The Funeral and Cemetery Scam

This scam involves someone reviewing recent obituaries, then posing as a debt collector for the deceased, even using extortion to demand payment of fake debts. 

In another scheme, less than reputable funeral homes may use aggressive language to require services not needed, at extraordinary prices. One example involved the purchase of a top-tier casket for a cremation. 

Steps to Help:

  • Fully navigate the finances of your deceased loved one before making any payments.
  • Become educated with family about the funeral process before paying for services 

What To Do If You Suspect Fraudulent Activity

If you believe you or a loved one may be the victim of an elderly scam, it’s important to report the incident. Start by contacting your local FBI field office and keep in mind that systems exist for you to submit a tip online about a person or organization you suspect of fraudulent activity. 

Above all, remain vigilant with every financial conversation, especially when you have not yet verified the source of the email or identity of the caller.

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