Scams Against Seniors are Common; Protect Yourself

Senior-Fraud-In-Copy-ImageYou called a handyman about a small leak in your roof. Now he tells you it will cost $3,000 to repair the roof. Is the price fair?

Your financial adviser says you could earn higher-than-normal returns if you agree to a certain investment. Is he telling the truth?

A woman called claiming to be from your credit card company and you gave her your Social Security number. Did you make a mistake?

Be on the Lookout for Senior Fraud

Unfortunately, in each of the scenarios described above, there is cause for concern. We will revisit these scenarios at the end of this article and offer suggestions, but for now we will consider the topic of fraud and seniors.

Many unscrupulous people prey on older individuals who may lack the insight needed to know something is amiss with the hand-written repair estimate they have just been handed or the phone call they received asking for confidential information. Add to the mix the memory loss common in some seniors, the fact that many are alone and homebound, and the vision or hearing problems that plague older adults – and you can see why many seniors are vulnerable to deception.

According to AARP, each year seniors are bilked out of nearly $13 billion due to due to frauds and scams.

Steps You Can Take to Prevent Senior Citizen Fraud:

There are things you can do to help minimize your vulnerability to fraud. Put the follow tips to work for you:

Never give personal information out if someone calls you

Reputable companies never call requesting credit card information or for your Social Security number. Asking for that type of info is a sure sign that something is not right. AARP reports a top scam right now involves a person leaving a message claiming to represent the IRS and demanding back tax money you owe. If you receive such a message, don’t call back. Another popular phone scam starts with a call to a senior telling them that a virus has been located on their computer. The friendly voice instructs them to visit a website and follow the instructions. In reality, the website downloads malware – defined as software with disruptive or illegal purposes – onto the senior’s computer, which can hack into passwords allowing access to bank accounts and the like.

Beware of email requesting private information

If you have any doubt about the legitimacy of an email, just delete it – or report it as spam. Legitimate companies do not send attachments or links that need to downloaded or opened in a browser. Even if the email appears to be from an organization you do business with, ignore. Instead, simply dial the customer helpline and ask if the email is real. Chances are the customer service rep will tell you to delete it.

Phone call or email: never share your name, birthdate and Social Security number

With those few facts, identity thieves can do untold amounts of damage. For instance, they can open credit accounts in your name and go on expensive shopping sprees. In many cases, you will not even know about it until the monthly statements arrive in your mailbox.

Where to Go if you Suspect Senior Scams:

Even if you have doubts about any offers or bids you’ve received, feel free to use the following resources:

  • AARP’s Fraud Watch Network allows you to check scams by state. It also provides tips about online scams, common investment cons and other ongoing frauds.
  • The FBI’s Scams and Safety pages offers forwarding addresses where you can send emails that are suspect and offers a searchable database of scams and frauds where you can search by topic and year.  It also provides an Internet Crime Complaint Center listing current scam reports.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) posts a Bureau of Consumer Protection Page where you can file a complaint, read the latest consumer fraud news and research how to safely obtain a free copy of your credit report.
  • The Better Business Bureau (BBB) rates businesses (from A+ to F) and offers consumer reviews and lists of complaints about local businesses that you should steer clear of.

Now, about those three scenarios described earlier in the article:

  • Regarding a roof repair estimate: Get a second opinion. Don’t tell the second contractor you already received a bid. Just get a second opinion.
  • About the financial adviser: How long have you worked with this adviser? Have his or her recommendations been correct in the past? If it’s a new relationship, ask for references from past clients. You can also contact the S. Securities and Exchange Commission to make sure a broker is licensed and in good standing.
  • On sharing your Social Security number: Don’t. The only people who legally need access to your Social Security number is you, your employer and any bank where you do business. If others ask, be suspicious.

By practicing a little caution and exercising some healthy skepticism, it can help prevent you from being victimized by fraudsters.