Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they are now considered “the crime of the 21st century.”
Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud
Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident, over age 65, qualifies for Medicare so there is rarely any need for a scam artist to research what private health insurance company older people have in order to scam them out of money.
In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare rep to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
Most commonly, counterfeit drug scams operate on the internet; where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications. This scam is growing in popularity, since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year; up from five (5) a year in the 1990s.
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. This scam can be as hard on the body as it is on the wallet.
Funeral & Cemetery Scams
The FBI warns about two (2) types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors. In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them. Scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.
Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of funeral services is necessary, even when performing a direct cremation which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket.
Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
In a society bombarded with images of the young and beautiful, it’s not surprising that some older people feel the need to conceal their age in order to participate more fully in social circles and the workplace. After all, 60 is the new 40, right?
It is in this spirit that many older Americans seek out new treatments and medications to maintain a youthful appearance, putting them at risk of scammers. Whether it’s fake Botox, like the one in Arizona that netted its distributors (who were convicted and jailed in 2006) $1.5 million in barely a year, or completely bogus homeopathic remedies that do absolutely nothing, there is money in the anti-aging business. Botox scams are particularly unsettling, as renegade labs creating versions of the real thing may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin, which is one of the most toxic substances known to science. A bad batch can have health consequences far beyond wrinkles or drooping neck muscles.
While the image of the lonely senior citizen with nobody to talk to may have something to do with this it is far more likely that older people are more familiar with shopping over the phone, and therefore, might not be fully aware of the risk. With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly. Examples include: The Pigeon Drop in which the con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second person is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger. The Fake Accident Ploy gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money or the Charity Scams in which money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.
While using the internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated internet scams. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user’s computer to scammers.
One such scam sends a senior an email message that appears to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information or the senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund.
Because many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they finish working, a number of investment schemes have been targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash.
Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams
Many people above a certain age own their homes which is a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value of a certain scam. Be careful about receiving letters from the County Assessor’s office about real estate value or offering a fee for a tax burden associated with it.
Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams
“There is no such thing as a free lunch”. You should never receive a letter, thru the mail, that you have won lottery money or about depositing money into your bank account. Do not give your account information out to anyone over the telephone.
The Grandparent Scam
This scam plays on your heart. Scammers place a call to an older person and say something like “Hi Grandma”. They then ask for money for car repairs, rent, etc. Do not send any money by Western Union or Money Gram unless you require identification to collect that money.
THIS ARTICLE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE NATIONAL COUNCIL ON AGING