Protecting Senior Citizens from Potential Fraud
Living a wonderful life as a retired or financially independent senior is what we all hope for. But there’s a sensitive issue that every senior and anyone around seniors must pay attention to—the chance of falling victim to a scam or hoax. Stories abound about unsuspecting seniors who answered an email or phone call or who invested in a product or service they thought was real, only to find out that somehow, someone has cheated them out of their money. Today’s senior citizens who grew up in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s are vulnerable because they tend to be very trusting of others. Many seniors are especially unaware of the proliferation of Internet scams and don’t know how to use technology to recognize fake emails and websites.
Anyone who knows a senior or takes care of one needs to relay the following advice to them.
- First and foremost, seniors should be suspicious of any phone call, piece of mail or email they receive that asks them for personal information. Just giving out your name or address can open up the potential for criminals to get enough details to steal your identity. No matter how nice someone seems on the phone or how “official” looking an email is, they should never reveal personal data.
- Seniors must understand that the Internet and emails are rife with fraud. One of the most common is an “official” looking email from a bank that claims the person’s bank account is “limited” or “closed” until they sign on again with their password and then “update” their account. These emails provide a link to log on—but it leads to a fake website where the person’s banking information is stolen so criminals can empty their bank accounts. The key to prevent falling victim to such scams begins by refusing to respond to any email that asks for banking information. They must call their bank if they think there is a problem with their bank account.
- Seniors must respect the old saying, “There is no free lunch.” Many phone calls, emails, and websites offer what appear to be incredible deals, such as “buy 1, get 3 free” or “30-day money back guarantee” or “free trial period.” These offers may be legitimate, but some are scams intended to get the senior’s credit card information or to sell them a product and never deliver it. Tell your senior that you will help them check out every company they do business with to verify that it is real and has a credible reputation. In this same vein are also the famous “Nigerian” scam emails, telling the person they have inherited money or can share millions of dollars if they can help the emailer get the money out of Nigeria or another country. These are NEVER real.
- Seniors should be aware that they are targets specifically of investment and health scams. Callers, emails, and websites may offer huge returns on investments or products that will improve their mental functioning, virility, appearance, or resistance to cancer. Few of these will prove to be real, as most are either exaggerations of the truth or outright scams. As good as any of these offers may seem, seniors must resist the lure of thinking they can make a lot of money quickly or that a health product sold on the Internet or on TV can restore their youth or prevent them from getting cancer or other illnesses. Seniors should also be cautious of “cheap” drugs that can be obtained by mail order, as many of these are fake drugs or they are never mailed out.
- Seniors also need to understand that bad people are constantly inventing new frauds. For instance, there is a wave of Medicare scams now that ask seniors for their Medicare numbers in exchange for free products or medical equipment. The senior’s Medicare number is then used by a corrupt doctor to bill Medicare for other services. In shopping malls, where seniors often go to walk or shop, new scams are popping up where they are approached and asked to sign petitions. Con artists can then copy or fake their signatures on fictitious documents. Other con artists approach seniors with bizarre stories, such as lost wallets or keys, or broken down cars, asking them for money to help them out.
- Finally, one of the largest areas of fraud are fake charities. Knowing that seniors are caring people, willing to help orphaned children, disabled vets, injured firefighters and police, single moms, and other causes, con artists have invented many seemingly real charities. They even print “official looking” literature and create complete web sites. Seniors should restrict their donations to major charities and those they can verify with the Better Business Bureau.
If you have a senior in your life—a loved one, a neighbor, or a friend –it is vital to have a talk about the importance of watching out for scams. Many seniors think they can detect fraud when they see it. The problem is, as they age, seniors can lose the capacity to discern something fishy, even if it is obvious to the rest of us. You can do a lot to help them stay safe and keep their money to spend on the happiness they deserve.