Financial Scams Targeting Seniors

Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered “the crime of the 21st century.” Why? It is believed seniors have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts. Also, people who grew up in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit this knowledge and vulnerability for their benefit.

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Devastating as these crimes can be, they often go unreported and can be difficult to prosecute; and can leave them with little time to recoup their losses. And it’s not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes. Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by the victim’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, among others.

Below is a list of some popular scams to watch out for:

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

Most often, counterfeit drug scams operate online, where seniors are increasingly going to find better prices on specialized medications. The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a person’s medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm. Additionally, Medicare drug discount cards are offered by a number of companies, and can save you money on prescriptions, but they are also popular with scam artists. It is best to contact Medicare directly, for a list of approved companies. You can do this online or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

Telemarketing & Direct Mail Advertising

With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful transaction has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with their network looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same victim repeatedly.

Direct mail usually offers something for free or almost free, but signs you up for further financial obligations. If any offer or deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is so be cautious. Do not give out personal information or account numbers over the phone.

Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams

Scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. The winner is sent a check to deposit in their bank account, and while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected.

During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim’s “prize money” is removed from his account when the check bounces.

The Grandparent Scam

The Grandparent Scam is so simple and devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets: their hearts.

A call is placed and when the mark picks up, the scammer will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without doing much background research.

Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid viaWestern Union, which doesn’t always require identification to collect. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”

While the sums from such a scam are likely to be in the hundreds, the very fact that little research is needed makes this a scam that can be perpetrated over and over at very little cost to the scammer.

Be an informed consumer! Do your research to find reliable and accredited businesses. If you want to learn how to protect yourself or an elderly parent or relative, you can refer to the FBI’s financial fraud page that discusses methods specifically aimed at senior citizens.


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