Protecting Senior Relatives From Scams: What You Need to Know

senior scams

No one is immune to being scammed, but older Americans are a particularly vulnerable segment of our population. While victims of scams may be reluctant to report their losses due to embarrassment or reluctance to engage in legal disputes, the Federal Trade Commission estimates that over 7% of seniors aged 65 to 74 and over 6% of those over 75 become victims of fraud, losing billions of dollars annually.

If you are helping to care for aging loved ones, it’s vital that you do your best to keep them informed of current scams. Any elderly person who is experiencing deteriorating cognition, should have someone review their finances regularly. By staying current on their financial situation, you will be able to nip anomalies in the bud before they’ve lost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The following guide to protecting your senior loved ones from scams in the year 2019 is intended to help prevent fraud, but read to the end if you need to report a fraud that has already occurred; we’ve got links to put you in touch with the right authorities.

1. Be wary of seemingly official communication that evokes fear or panic.

As we all know, we don’t think clearly when our negative emotions have been strongly triggered. That’s why scammers use sneaky tactics to scare senior citizens into sharing personal information or outright forking over their hard-earned savings.

Tell your loved ones that anyone who contacts them and says that there is an urgent reason for them to reveal private data (bank account numbers, credit card numbers, SSN) is not to be interacted with.

A bank isn’t going to call and request such information, and no governmental organization—whether Social Security or the greatly-feared IRS—is going to call and threaten them at home.

Under no circumstances should sensitive information be shared with cold callers. No matter your age, do your due diligence to make sure personnel are legitimately associated with their cited organization.

2. Even if your loved one does want to make a purchase, advise a waiting period.

No trustworthy sales person will pressure someone to buy immediately. Sales people who advise taking little or no time to mull over a financial decision are using fraudulent tactics to manipulate their target into making a bad decision.

It’s a good idea for everyone to wait at least 24 hours before acting on a decision to purchase. If you can, wait a full week and think through the implications of any big-ticket item.

3. The Grandparent Scam is new again.

In this take on the classic scam, someone calls an older person and pretends to be their grandchild. They spin a sad story—again, designed to spark a wave of disorienting emotion—that they’ve been in a car accident, or have been robbed, or even imprisoned, and beg for money to be wired over immediately.

While younger people who are scammed are more likely to wire funds, older adults mail cash. They’re taken for a median individual loss of $9,000.

Claiming to be avoiding loss of money in the mail, these unscrupulous crooks ask their victims to stuff cash into several envelopes, then lay the envelopes between magazine pages and mail them out.

Should your loved one receive a call from a distressed “family member,” they should take the time to call that person on their usual line and verify their whereabouts and situation. Don’t mail cash under any circumstances.

4. Natural disaster relief is rife with scammers.

After a natural disaster, scammers waltz in, targeting the victims and their family members/friends. These scams may begin with cold calls, social media outreach, emails, or even with a personal visit.

Scammers may pretend to be a charity or federal agency. They’ll ask for donations or personal information, often saying they need this information to complete official forms requesting funds for direct disaster relief.

If you or your loved ones are victims of natural disaster, use NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp® disaster assistance tool to locate legitimate sources of aid.

5. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

You may receive advertisements or emails advertising prescription drugs that work just as well as (and for less money than) the ones you’re paying for now. These are, largely, fake. These drugs may not even be real, and the people behind them are just trying to get your insurance information or credit card number. Alternatively, the drugs may be counterfeit, essentially acting as placebos. This is obviously severely dangerous to your health and potentially fatal. Elderly people consume about one-third of all prescription drugs in the U.S., despite making up less than 15 percent of the population, and scammers take aim at this need for cheaper prescriptions.

Here’s who to contact if you need to report a scam.

The FBI deals with blue- and white-collar crimes. If the scam happened online, they’ll look into it.

The FTC handles telemarketing and phishing scams.

If you’ve made a misplaced investment in an opportunity only to realize you’ve been scammed, report it to the SEC.

The SSA is who to inform if you’re scammed with regard to your social security number.

If an online business has fraudulent practices, report it to the BBB. Their website identifies businesses across the country who have attempted to scam customers.

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