Looking Out for Loved Ones: The Worst in Senior Scams

i-heart A vulture—that fearsome bird of prey—circles its unsuspecting victim and waits for it to falter. The innocent creature below has no idea what’s in store. It goes about, minding its own business, until the vulture swoops down and— Well, we all know how this ends. What’s the difference between a vulture in the scenario above and a criminal who perpetuates senior scams? Sadly, not much. The latter is a diabolical individuals who prey on seniors because they are often seen as easy targets due to their physical and cognitive limitations.1 Social isolation can also play a part, as friends and family often live far away, and aren’t always there to protect their elderly loved ones.What are some of the most prevalent senior scams, you ask? Read on to find out what you should be on the lookout for.

The scariest senior scams

Congratulations – you’ve won the lottery!

No matter how old we get, most of us still have dreams of winning the lottery. Many seniors would love to shore up their nest egg, take that trip around the world they’ve always dreamed of, or leave something to their children and grandchildren. Victims of this scam are usually told they already won, and all that’s needed to access their winnings is a single payment from them (for “fees” or “taxes,” of course). They’re sent a check for a large amount, told to make the payment, then cash the check. Of course, when they try, the check bounces, and the only winners are the scam artists themselves.

Scare off the scammers: Tell your senior loved one that if it “seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.” No lottery or sweepstakes should ask you to pay in advance – or at all – to collect your winnings.

Quick — your Medicare or Medicaid card needs replacing!

Scammers pretending to be from government offices sometimes call and inform seniors that their Medicare or Medicaid cards must be replaced immediately.2 In reality, this is no more than a trick to secretly acquire the personal information on the card in order to commit identity theft.

Scare off the scammers: Urge your senior loved one never to give personal information (like their social security number) over the phone. Let them know that most government offices send important messages by post; they very likely will never call.

Please help feed the children!

Charity scams often follow in the wake of natural disasters, where callers claiming to be from a relief organization seek funds for the victims’ aid.3 This scam is particularly repulsive because the victims never see those funds, of course – the only place they go is directly into the scammers pockets!4

Scare off the scammers: help your elderly loved ones solicit charities themselves if they’d like to donate. Make them aware that in a flurry of cold calls after a disaster, many of the callers will turn out to be scammers.

Faucet leaking?

Repair fraud is another common scam perpetuated against seniors, who often have difficulty maintaining their homes. Scammers will cold-call or knock on the door dressed as fix-it personnel, offering to do small repairs around the house. They then charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for doing absolutely nothing, or for making a bad situation worse!

Scare off the scammers: tell your elderly family member to discuss any repairs in advance with you, even if they seem small. Certain ones require licensed professionals, such as electricians or plumbers.

Fight back against senior scams

They say “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” The more you know about these and other types of senior scams, the better prepared you’ll be to protect your elderly loved from becoming the victim of heartbreaking fraud, deception, and unscrupulous con artists. And if you feel strongly enough, do your community a favor – educate as many people as you can about these and other scams you hear about, so that they are less likely to be victims as well.

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

Show 4 footnotes

  1. “Can Elderly Scams be Prevented?” Aging Care, https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/prevent-elderly-becoming-scam-victims-138455.htm.
  2. “Don’t Fall for Medicare Card Phone Scam,” Better Business Bureau, January 6, 2013, http://www.bbb.org/blog/2013/01/dont-fall-for-medicare-card-phone-scam/.
  3. “Charity Scams,” Federal Trade Commission, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0011-charity-scams.
  4. “Charity Scams,” Fraud.org, http://www.fraud.org/scams/general-fraud/charity-scams.
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4 thoughts on “Looking Out for Loved Ones: The Worst in Senior Scams

  1. Your piece about elder scams was excellent, however it omits one of the most prevalent and diabolical…. “THE GRANDMA/PA SCAM”

    Often times late at night or early in the morning (when the senior is least focused) a caller identifying themselves as the seniors “grandson/daughter” relates that they are in Mexico (or wherever) & have been arrested or are in some serious trouble.

    They then ask grandma/grandpa to wire them some money for bail or hospital fees…

    They beg the “grandparent” to not mention this to their parents because the trip out of the US was without parental permission, and the parents don’t know that they are there.

    This insidious trick has caused thousands of dollars of losses to an unknown number of kind get unsuspecting “grandparents”.

    Potential victims should be reminded to always check on the whereabouts of their “grandson/granddaughter and/or ask identifying questions that only the child would know.

    Knowledge is a great defense because I’ve noticed in my elder abuse trainings that folks have remarked that because they had heard about the scam beforehand, they were not tricked.

    Unfortunately several seniors during these lectures volunteer that, yes, they too had been scammed but they were too embarrassed to tell anyone.

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