Scams are generally designed to target the vulnerable. The people who fall under that label are those who rely on others and may have less knowledge about modern innovations and new policies, laws, and procedures. This number consists of older adults, targeted by scammers for those reasons, and others.
Because older adults are generally perceived as weaker and easier to deceive than other members of the population due to their age, scammers tend to go after them. While there may be some truth in that, outdated, inaccurate stereotypes about them also exist. Those things make them much more vulnerable to scams.
Many types of scams can cause a lot of harm to adults in general, but they can be far more painful for the elderly. The only way for them to avoid scams is to know how scammers operate.
We compiled common scams against the elderly and their red flags for awareness, which will help avoid them.
Health insurance fraud
A person’s health becomes weaker with age. That’s why the U.S. government made it so that every citizen 65 years and older will qualify for Medicare benefits.
Medicare is a national health insurance program for people 65 years or older and younger people receiving Social Security disability benefits. It’s administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to subsidize the cost of health care.
Unfortunately, this mandate makes it easier for scammers to easily carry out health insurance fraud. That’s because they won’t have to extensively research how they’ll do it since most older adults are familiar with Medicare.
Scammers who use Medicare for their schemes typically pose as Medicare representatives and tell seniors all sorts of lies. A few examples of their deceiving methods include:
- Telling seniors they need a new Medicare card and asking them for their Social Security number as a requirement.
- Telling seniors that they need new supplemental policies
- Taking the money provided to bill Medicare by gathering personal information
Telemarketing scams are perhaps the most common schemes fraudsters use to prey on older people. It doesn’t involve face-to-face interactions; that’s why they deem it easier to deceive seniors over the phone.
Besides that, phone calls also don’t leave a paper trail, making them difficult to trace. Older people also make more purchases over the phone than any other demographic, which doesn’t help their defense against scammers.
Over the phone, scammers may represent themselves as investors, IRS agents, bank officials, or even family members to deceive older adults. Here are some of the common schemes they use:
- The Pigeon Drop
This telemarketing scam involves scammers offering a larger sum of money to older people in exchange for a smaller sum. There’d usually be one or two more people in on this scam to act either as an innocent bystander or a lawyer to make it more convincing.
An example of this would be someone calling to pretend that they received an inheritance needing a smaller amount of money to transfer it to you.
- Fake accident
Scammers will call older adults’ residences saying that someone they know or a family member got into an accident. Then, they’ll ask about information or money, saying that immediate help is needed.
Another person may be in on this scam to pretend as a doctor, lawyer, or police officer to provide details about the accident.
This scam uses pre-recorded robocalls to get older people to say “Yes” over the phone. Then, they record the victim’s voice saying it and use it as a voice signature.
Once they have your voice recorded, they may use it to charge credit cards and the like.
Computer or tech support scams
Some versions of this scam involve senior citizens getting a call from scammers posing as tech support people. They’ll often promise to do tech support on their devices or check and clear their gadgets of viruses at a senior-discounted price. In other versions, they’ll use enticing online ads to convince seniors to contact them for help.
Once they’ve convinced their victims, they’ll try to steal bank account passwords and other financial information by gaining access to their devices. For example, they’ll have older people link their computer with the victim’s so they can search it for the financial info they need.
There are numerous methods of scamming older people online. This includes the use of malware and phishing via email or fake websites to steal identities.
A common internet scam used to deceive older people is phishing. Scammers create an email address and template that looks like an official email from a financial institution or a business. Then, they’ll claim something like your account has been hacked, which warrants a password change to steal sensitive financial information.
Aside from a password change, other emails would phish information by suggesting to download a free virus checker or virtual private network (VPN) to secure your computer. Once the victim clicks the link on the email, ransomware will be downloaded, which locks you out of your computer. It’s a form of malware that only removes itself from the device it infected after the owner pays a required amount of money.
Counterfeit prescription medication
Scammers use this tactic to scam older people because they know they look for cheaper alternatives to reduce the cost of their prescription medication. This scam happens online, where older adults look for better prices on specialized medications.
They operate these scams through the internet, saying they offer prescription medicine for more affordable prices. But, little did their victims realize, they’re paying for counterfeit drugs that would waste their money and may cost health problems due to the hazard of fake medicine present.
Fraudsters go as low as taking advantage of grieving older people by deceiving them during a funeral or using the death of a loved one to steal from them. There are two types of funeral fraud the FBI warns people about.
In one approach, fraudsters call or attend the funeral of a grieving widow or widower that they found in the obituaries. Then, they’ll claim that the deceased had an outstanding debt with them and will try to extort their family to settle it.
Another tactic fraudsters use relating to this is posing as a representative from the funeral home. They do this to charge unnecessary costs to the deceased family’s bill, fully capitalizing on their unfamiliarity with funeral service billing.
The “Grandparent” scam
It’s another version of a telephone scam where scammers call older people and pose as a family member or relative in need. It’s either that or they pose themselves as an authoritative figure representing the relative, like a lawyer, for instance.
Scammers will ask for money or financial information to steal from the victim. Often, they’d also ask them not to tell anyone about their conversation because they’d like to keep the problem on the down-low.
A variation of this scheme is done on social media, where scammers will communicate with an older adult to establish a relationship to gain their trust. This elaborate scam ends in requesting money from the victim, which they’ll willingly give due to them trusting the scammer.
Fake prizes and lottery scams
Joining the lottery and games where they can win prizes is a popular source of entertainment for older adults. Unfortunately, it makes them an enticing target for con artists.
Older people are tricked into believing that they won a prize, usually a large sum of money, but are told they have to wire money in taxes or fees or free the prize from customs officials. Once they pay the money, they receive a check with their prize that doesn’t clear.
Another version of these scams involve scammers posing as a police officer investigating fake-prize scamming. Using this con, they’ll acquire the victim’s financial information by claiming that it’s necessary to push through with the investigation.
The fact that many senior citizens own their homes increases the potential dollar value of this scam. Con artists will send these older homeowners a fabricated letter that looks legitimate, claiming that it’s from an office such as the country assessor.
The letter would then say that the homeowners can reduce their property tax but only if they pay a fee. Besides this, reverse mortgage scams are also growing threats for older homeowners.
A reverse mortgage is a sign of unlocked equity, which scammers can take advantage of. Victims of this scam can lose their homes, something senior citizens can’t afford at their age.
Scammers pose as financial advisors to take advantage of retirees’ savings. They offer them all sorts of investments to gain access to their account funds and savings and steal it.
Schemes like this can also come in property and timeshare deals. Using a sense of urgency and the promise of gifts, they entice older people to invest in their fake offers.
Editor’s Note on Scams Against the Elderly:
These scams mainly rely on the assumptions that older people are unaware of the different ways their financial information can be stolen and unfamiliar with modern technology. Therefore, we urge senior citizens to stay informed and be vigilant to avoid falling victim to them.
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