From the beginning of man, there have been scams out there. That may sound a bit cynical, but it’s not far from the truth. We’d like to believe that most people are good, honest folks but there will always be a few bad apples. Just take care that you don’t become their next target!
Unfortunately, seniors are frequent targets of scammers these days. There are several reasons for this. One is financial — some seniors have accumulated a large amount of money over the years and scammers consider it ripe for the taking – especially if there’s any dementia involved. In fact, one of the first signs of dementia is a problem handling money– even for those who handled it very skillfully in the past.
One successful businessman was very frugal in his younger years (some might call him cheap!), but in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s he started getting letters from people asking for money. People he never met. And suddenly he was writing checks to complete strangers. Yikes.
But that’s another thing that make seniors a favorite target – they’re likely to be compassionate. They feel bad about the misfortunes of others and are often quite willing to help out if they can afford to – and even if they can’t.
And while seniors are no more naïve than other people, they may fall victim to modern technology. Phone calls and emails are popular ways to target seniors – and when the scammers have a fair amount of information about you or your family, why wouldn’t you believe it’s true?
Here are some of the most common scams that target seniors. Read on – and beware.
The Grandparent Scam. Scammers call a senior, pretending to be your grandchild. With all the information available on the Internet these days, it’s easy to find out a lot about you on Facebook and other sites. So by the time they call, they may already have your grandchild’s name. If not, one trick is for them to ask, “Do you know who this is?” And of course, you’ll supply your grandchild’s name. The caller affirms that it’s them (ha!) and then launches into a sad tale about why they need money – right away. There’s always a reason they can’t tell their parents. And they always need the money sent or wired to a place where anyone would be able to pick it up. Don’t fall for it. One trick is to make a plan in advance. Talk to the kids and grandkids to come up with a specific greeting or code word. No code word, no cash.
IRS Scam #1. Callers have been contacting seniors recently claiming to be the IRS. They tell you that you owe money for back taxes and if it’s not paid immediately with a credit card or bank account information over the phone a policeman will be sent to your home to “take you in.” They are often very convincing, giving a badge number and case number. It can be very frightening. But you should know that the IRS never contacts people by phone (unless they’re returning a call). Initial contact is always made by mail.
IRS Scam #2. In this one, the caller tells you that your identity has been stolen. Then of course, to straighten it all out, they need your personal information. They’ll want your social security number, bank account information and more. Never give out any personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call to a valid and legitimate office, bank or agency.
Scams for the Lovelorn. With all the Internet dating services out there these days, seniors are finding love online – just like their younger counterparts. But sometimes, seniors become easy targets of unscrupulous suitors. If contact is made by email and you may never actually meet the person. Other times, a personal relationship starts up. It’s easy to be swept up in the romance of it all, so when your new paramour asks for money for some “emergency,” it’s only natural to want to help out. One emergency becomes two and then five and then a dozen. All of a sudden, half of your life savings is gone – and so is your new love. Keep your finances and your love life separate!
Home Repair Scams. It’s that time of the year again — when scammers often go door to door offering their services to unsuspecting homeowners. While they usually claim to be offering a discount rate, often the cost is much higher than the one you’d get by calling a reputable worker. They’ll tell you they’re working nearby and can do your job (roofing, painting, black-topping, etc.) at the same time. Lucky you. The scam may simply be the high price. Or it could be that you need to pay up front and you never get any work done. Or they complete a portion and then need more money to finish up. When the first job is done, they may find other things that supposedly need to be fixed and offer to do that for an exorbitant price as well. Don’t hire door-to-door handymen or companies. If you need work done, call around for quotes, check client reviews and then make an educated choice.
Phishing Scams. This scam involves emails or phone calls telling you that your credit card or bank account has been compromised or that fraudulent activity has been noted. They tell you your account will be frozen until it’s all sorted out – and then count on you being so relieved that it was discovered, or anxious to get it up and running again, that when they ask you to confirm all of your personal information many people do it without thinking. Stop! If you think the call might be legitimate, hang up and call your bank or the number on the back of your credit card. If it’s legit, they’ll be able to help you there and the original caller won’t care who actually resolves the problem. If this has alert has come through email, never click on a link provided. Contact the company by calling them directly or finding a customer service number on their website.
There are still a lot of good people out there — just be aware. Don’t make hasty decisions or give out personal information by phone or online. And most of all, if it sounds too good to be true, well, it probably is.