But in some cases, threats to senior citizens can come from people half a world away.
Financial scams targeting seniors are – unfortunately – everywhere these days. Here are some of the most common, according to the National Council on Aging.
- Medicare/health insurance scams
If you’re over 65 in America, you qualify for Medicare. While this obviously benefits those who need health insurance, it gives scam artists an automatic “in” for targeting seniors: They know without doing much research that the person they’re going after has Medicare.
In these scams, the criminals pretend to be a Medicare representative to get seniors to give them their personal information, or set up makeshift mobile clinics to provide fake services, allowing them to use a senior’s personal information to bill Medicare.
It’s important to remember Medicare will never call or visit you with a billing issue.
- Counterfeit prescription drugs
More and more senior citizens are using the internet to purchase prescription drugs. Unfortunately, many of them are buying counterfeit drugs, which at best may not do anything and at worst can be harmful. Some scammers even offer fake Botox and other anti-aging treatments.
The DEA has even investigated scams where criminals sell people prescription drugs, then pose as law enforcement officers to extort the victims.
The Mayo Clinic recommends only buying prescription drugs from a licensed pharmacy. And if have bought medication online and are being scammed, you should hang up and contact the DEA.
- The funeral/obituary scam
In this scam, criminals will read obituaries and call the widow/widower, claiming the deceased had an unpaid debt. The FBI also warns that disreputable funeral homes will use family members’ unfamiliarity with the cost of funeral to add unnecessary charges.
- Telemarketing scams
This is perhaps the most common type of scam aimed at senior citizens. They can be especially hard to trace, given that there’s no face-to-face interaction or paper trail.
An elaborate version of this scam is what’s known as “the pigeon drop.” The scammer claims he/she has found a large sum of money and will split it with the victim in exchange for a “good faith” payment from the victim’s bank account. There will often be a second con artist involved, posing as someone who helps authenticate the scam.
Other telemarketing scams include phony charities, which often pop up in the wake of a natural disaster, and fake accidents, in which the scammer gets the victim to send money to a child or other relative in the hospital.
- Investment schemes
Whether it’s a pyramid scheme like the one run by Bernie Madoff to the Nigerian prince looking for help claiming his fortune, investment schemes have long been an easy way for scammers to target senior citizens’ retirement income.
- Mortgage scams
Many older people own their homes, and scammers take advantage of this fact. They can do this by posing as tax assessors, offering to reassess the value of a home (and thus potentially lowering the tax burden), for a fee.
The growing popularity of reserve mortgages has led to a rise in reverse mortgage scams, in which scammers offer a phony “free” house in another location in exchange for the title to a victim’s home.
- Lottery/sweepstakes scams
With these scams, the con artists tell their victims they’ve won some sort of sweepstakes or lottery, but need to pay a fee or taxes up front. The scammers send a fake check and collect their “fee” before their check ultimately bounces.
- The grandparent scam
This one is almost too hard to write about, but here it is:
The scammer calls a senior citizen and says “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?”
When the grandparent guesses which grandchild it sounds like, the scammer has their opening. They can then request help for some sort of “emergency” – past due rent, a broken down car – to be paid through Western Union or MoneyGram.
And because the scam requires little to no research, it can be pulled off again and again.
What if I worry my loved ones have been scammed?
If you’re worried a senior in your life has been the target of fraud, there are a number of resources at your disposal, whether it means contacting your local senior services group, adult protective services or law enforcement.
You may also need the services of an attorney who specializes in elder law. For nearly three decades, Richard Newman and Newman Elder Law have provided those services to seniors in need. Whether you’re concerned about protecting assets from scammers or planning for long-term care, our experts can keep you and your family safe and secure.