Because they’re seen as easy targets, seniors are often the unwitting victims of fraud. Learn how to avoid the most common scams.
“Congratulations! You’ve won a cash prize totaling more than $100,000! In order to receive the money, please send us a cashier’s check for $3,500 to cover processing fees.”
What would you do if you got a letter like this in the mail? You might think it’s too good to be true. But what if it looked so real and sounded so official that you thought about sending in the required “processing fees?”
Fraud and the elderly
Scams like this one are very common and many seniors fall victim to them. Elderly people are often targeted because it is thought that they are lonely, vulnerable and gullible. Plus, seniors are more likely to have assets in the form of savings or property.
The truth is that most victims simply make bad decisions because they think they are getting a good deal or winning a real prize. Some seniors are just too trusting. They have a hard time telling someone “no” or hanging up on a telemarketer. Others may have early dementia that affects their judgment or ability to make decisions. They may not realize they have been conned until weeks or even months later. Many do not report the fraud because they feel ashamed to have been taken advantage of.
Types of scams
Some of the most common ways seniors are conned out of money include:
- Fake prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries
- Charitable contributions to fake organizations
- Inflated or unnecessary home or car repairs
- Worthless policies for health, life and funeral insurance
- Telemarketing sales for fraudulent products or services
The warning signs
Con artists try to gain their victims’ trust by sounding confident or giving a real-sounding business name. Some make the victim feel “lucky” that they were specially chosen for the offer. Usually, the scammer insists on an instant answer or purchase. They may warn the victim not to tell anyone about the offer because it is so “exclusive.”
Here are some more signs of fraud:
- Having to pay fees to accept a prize or free gift. Legitimate sweepstakes, competitions and lotteries will not require an up-front payment.
- Demanding that money be sent by bank transfer or overnight mail. They want victims to part with their money before they have time to think about what they’re doing.
- Describing an offer as “high profit” but “low risk.” Get-rich-quick schemes never work. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Avoiding fraud and scams
Always take your time to think things through before you spend or donate money. These precautions can also help prevent seniors from becoming victims:
- Get advice. If you can, talk to a trusted friend, family member or financial advisor before you make a decision.
- Verify the details. A company name may sound familiar, but can still be fake. Check all the information against a trustworthy directory to make sure it’s a real business.
- Don’t share too much information. Avoid giving out personal details over the phone. This includes your credit card or bank account number, birth date or social security number.
- Be a savvy surfer. Some Web sites claim to be real businesses on secure servers, but they may not be reputable. If you bank online, always check the Web site address to make sure it’s correct. And never click on links from e-mails. Instead, type the address directly into your browser so you don’t get redirected to hoax sites.
- Get it in writing. Don’t believe what you are told over the phone. Ask to have information about charitable organizations mailed to you.
- Reduce unwanted calls. Register for the government’s Do Not Call list to help reduce the number of telemarketing calls you get.