America's seniors can fight back against fraud by keeping themselves educated on the sneaky ways criminals (and sometimes seniors' own family members) are going after their money. Check out some of the most common forms of elder fraud.
There are few things more shameful and disgusting than fraudsters who prey on seniors, trying to cheat them out of their life savings and hard-earned retirement money.
Unfortunately, elder fraud is an all too common occurrence these days. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA):
Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered “the crime of the 21st century.” Why? Because seniors are thought to have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts.
But you’re not defenseless. If you know what to look for, you can protect yourself (and your loved ones). These are five common scams aimed at seniors:
- Health care fraud: From aggressive salespeople pushing seniors to buy unnecessary health care products or equipment to scammers posing as Medicare representatives to trick seniors into handing over personal information, health care or health insurance-related fraud is a common way to bilk seniors. The FBI recommends that seniors keep track of their doctors’ visits and medical procedure costs, only provide insurance and personal information to people who have provided them with a service and avoid purchasing medical equipment or services from door-to-door or telephone salespeople.
- Reverse mortgage scam: Many seniors own their homes, and reverse mortgages have increased in popularity. These factors mean that reverse mortgage fraud is on the rise, according to the FBI. “In many of the reported scams, victim seniors are offered free homes, investment opportunities, and foreclosure or refinance assistance. They are also used as straw buyers in property flipping scams,” the FBI explains. “Seniors are frequently targeted through local churches and investment seminars, as well as television, radio, billboard, and mailer advertisements.” The FBI recommends that seniors seek out their own reverse mortgage counselor, avoid signing any document they don’t understand and ignore unsolicited advertisements for reverse mortgages.
- Telemarketing fraud: A common, and sometimes all too easy, way for fraudsters to con older Americans is via telephone. Scammers often use “contests” and “free” product offers to trick seniors into handing over credit card information or other personal information to cover supposed shipping and handling fees, The Motley Fool explains. The information can be used by the scammer or even sold to other criminals. “With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace,” the NCOA explains. The FBI says seniors can protect themselves by safeguarding their personal and payment info, not paying for products or services in advance on the phone, and researching the legitimacy of a company or charity before considering a purchase or donation.
- “Grandchild” scam: This scam is “so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts,” the NCOA says. Fraudsters often phone seniors and pretend to be their grandchild, saying something like – “Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?” – and then convince the grandma to send them money – via Western Union or MoneyGram – for a fictitious financial problem, the organization explains.
- Obituary scam: Some fraudsters read obituaries in a newspaper, and then call the deceased person’s widow or other family members to try to collect on a fake outstanding debt. Others scammers actually go to a widow’s home with a fake cash-on-delivery package and demand immediate payment for something that they claim was ordered by the now deceased spouse, according to Bankrate. The fraudster takes the money and is long gone before the widow realizes the box is empty or full of useless garbage. “If there truly is a package that needs to be delivered, you can say, ‘I don’t have the money right now,’ or ‘I need to verify this and get back to you,'” Sandra Crasko, vice president of community services at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, told Bankrate. “If someone doesn’t feel right for whatever reason, take time to research it and that’s OK.”
If you or someone you know has been a victim of elder fraud, go to StopFraud.gov to report it.
According to the NCOA, although the scams described here are typically perpetrated by a stranger, 90 percent of reported elder abuse is committed by a senior’s family members, most often their own children or grandchildren.
Click here to find out what happened to a Canadian con man who bilked America’s seniors out of more than $20 million.
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