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Senior Citizens and Fraud Schemes

You hear about it on the news all the time: reports of fraudsters attempting to pull a fast one on our nation’s senior citizens. These scammers try to elicit personal and sensitive information from the unsuspecting elderly victims in order to bogart their Social Security checks, steal their identity, and demolish their credit by opening handfuls of new credit accounts.  What is it that makes seniors such an appealing group for these ne’er-do-wells to target? According to the FBI, senior citizens are most likely to have built up a “nest egg”, own their own home, qualify for Social Security payments, and/or have excellent credit, all of which make them attractive to these con artists.

Some seniors are easier and safer to be conned because they were raised to be more polite and trusting of individuals; making it less likely for them to hang up the phone or disregard a seemingly “official” piece of mail from a government agency like the Social Security Administration (SSA). Additionally, older Americans are less likely to report a suspected case of fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are ashamed that they have been scammed at all, or don’t even realize they’ve been scammed. Some elderly Americans may forego reporting a fraud case out of fear that their relatives might develop doubts about their ability to care for themselves or their overall mental well-being. According to the United States’ Senate Special Committee on Aging, crooks may even prey on unsuspecting seniors by impersonating law enforcement officials and threatening adverse actions if a senior is “non-compliant”.

All told, the tricks and methods used to con people; senior citizens in particular, are pretty malevolent and dastardly. And it can come from any angle, from complete strangers halfway across the world sitting at a computer to a greedy home health aide or family member with bad intentions.

What are some of the most common scams that target senior citizens?

  1. Medicare/Health Insurance Scams: Scammers will pose as a Medicare representative in an attempt to gain sensitive information from the victim, or they will offer bogus services to elderly victims at places like mobile clinics, then use the personal information they collect to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
  2. Counterfeit Prescriptions: This scam can be as hard on the body as it is on the wallet. Seniors are relying more and more on the internet to acquire necessary medication at lower rates. Scammers are taking advantage of this trend by giving off the impression of a real drug company offering discount prescriptions, when in reality the seniors are getting at best a non-harming placebo drug; at worst a pill with harmful substances that can have detrimental effects on the victims health.
  3. Funeral/Cemetery Scams: The FBI warns of two types of funeral and cemetery scams. The first approach scammers will try is to read the obituaries and then call or even attend the funeral for a complete stranger in an effort to take advantage of their grieving family members. The scammers will claim that the deceased had an outstanding debt with them and will attempt to extort money from the heartbroken relatives to settle this fake debt. Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes’ is to capitalize on grieving family members’ unfamiliarity with the cost of funeral expenses to add unnecessary charges to their bill. In one of the more common examples of this approach, seedy funeral directors will attempt to convince family members that a casket, typically one of the most expensive parts of a funeral service, is necessary when performing a direct cremation, which can typically be completed with a cardboard casket rather than a more expensive burial casket.
  4. Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products: In a society bombarded with images of youth and beauty, it’s no wonder our nation’s elderly are seeking new and innovative ways to maintain a sense of youth and vitality. And scammers are taking note. Whether it’s fake Botox or phony homeopathic remedies that do absolutely nothing, they’re making money from the anti-aging movement.
  5. Telemarketing/Phone Scams: These are some of the more common schemes and with no paper-trail or face-to-face interaction, they can be some of the harder ones to trace. Some examples of phone scams include: (1) the pigeon drop: the con artist tells the victim they’ve found a large sum of money and will split it with them if the victim will make several “good faith” payments directly from their bank account. There is often a second con artist involved who will pose as a banker or lawyer or some other official; (2) the fake accident ploy: the con artist convinces they victim to wire or send money on the pretext that a friend or family member has been hospitalized and needs the money; (3) charity scams: con artists solicit money for fake charities. These scams are more common following a natural disaster or tragedy.
  6. Internet Fraud: Their unfamiliarity with less visible aspects of browsing the internet (firewalls and anti-virus protections) make seniors especially susceptible to internet scams like pop-ups for expensive, yet fake, virus programs or the more common email phishing scams.
  7. Investment Schemes: Because many elderly Americans find themselves planning for retirement or managing the nest egg they’ve already built up, they’ve become a prime target for fraudsters looking to scam them out of the money they’ve worked hard for their whole lives.
  8. Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams: Scammers prey hard on elderly Americans who own their own home, because the potential dollar value of these types of scams is typically higher than others. Scammers may try sending a letter in the mail from an official government agency (mimicking almost exactly their letterhead) claiming that they can offer (for a fee) a reassessment of their property value in order to reduce the tax burden. Older adults who recently unlocked equity in their homes have a higher risk of being scammed. Those considering reverse mortgages should be aware of people in their lives who may be pressuring them to get one, or those who stand to benefit from the borrower. Another scam targeting older home-owning Americans involve home improvements. Scammers posing as a home improvement company will walk right up to the homes of elderly Americans offering services (like lawn mowing, tree removal, gutter cleaning, etc.) but will either not deliver or do a poor job.
  9. Sweepstakes/Lottery Scams: This scam is one that is familiar to many. Scammers will inform their target that they recently won a large sum of money and they need to make some sort of payment in order to unlock the winnings. In most cases, the victim will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account (though it will later be declined because it’s fake). While they’re waiting for the fake check to inevitably bounce, the scammers will make more requests for payment, this time on taxes and fees for the winnings.
  10. The Grandparent Scam: This one is perhaps the most monstrous of all the scams as it preys on any person’s most valuable asset: their heart. In a “Grandparent scam”, scammers will call their target and once they pick up they’ll say something like “hi, Grandma/Grandpa. Do you know who this is?” Once the grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the person on the phone sounds like, the scammer is “in” with a fake identity, having to do very little research. The fake grandchild will ask his or her new grandparent for money to help solve a fake problem (rent, car trouble, etc.) to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t require identification for transfers. While the haul for these types of scams is likely only to be in the hundreds, the fact that little background investigation is needed makes it a lucrative one that can be perpetrated over and over again.

Take action now, to avoid the headache later!

There are steps you can take now to safeguard yourself from these scams and more. Take a look at one of our previous posts for some great tips on how to do just that!

If you think you are the victim of a scam, don’t wait another minute!

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk with someone you trust. You are not alone and there are hordes of people who work tirelessly just to help people like you who have been the victims of a fraud scam. Take action as soon as you can; the longer you wait, the worse the situation can get. Keep a list of numbers to call handy, including your bank, credit card companies, and local police, and report the scam to them all as soon as possible.  The USA.gov website has a helpful list of agencies you can file your fraud claim with, depending on the type of scam it was: https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds. Additionally, it’s a good idea to report the fraud to all three credit reporting agencies. And, as always, if you need legal assistance our attorneys are here for you and ready to help! Give us a call at (410) 535-6100 or send us an email at info@ferrantedill.com today.

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