The population in the United States is, overall, aging, and according to one survey from 2016, people over 50 currently hold about 85% of the country’s wealth. Researchers have found that changes to the brain mean that older people are more trusting than younger people.
These two factors of wealth and trust mean seniors are a popular target for scams.
If you have seniors in your life that you care for, read on to learn about some of the most common scams, and how you can arm your loved ones to avoid them.
Video Guide: Protecting Seniors from Common Scams
Here is a quick video summary of the information in this guide. Keep reading for more details.
Common Scams Targeting Senior Citizens
Scams against seniors prey on their generosity and/or their lack of familiarity with modern technologies. Here are some of the more common ones along with some advice on how you can protect seniors from scams.
One common, and simple, scam is to pose as a charity and ask the senior citizen to sign up to donate money. Impersonating a charity is a serious offense, and scammers who do this tend to operate for short periods before moving on to other scams or areas.
Rather than asking for regular payments, they’ll pick a trendy cause that’s been in the news recently and then ask for cash donations or for the senior to give them gift cards or to wire money to them.
Teach your loved ones to research any charities they wish to donate to carefully, looking up their registration details to confirm that they are real. If they wish to make a charitable donation, have them contact the charity directly to ensure the funds go to the right place.
Impersonating Loved Ones
A popular telephone scam is to call a senior citizen and say “Hi Grandma, can you tell who this is?”. If the senior recognizes the voice, then the scammer will agree and pretend to be that person, then they’ll say they’re in trouble or stuck somewhere on the road and need some cash wired to them. This kind of scam is known as social engineering.
It’s only natural for someone to want to help their friends and family. Teach your family to be skeptical when contacted out of the blue by a number they don’t recognize. Get them to ask questions only that person would know the answer to or have a code word that you’d use to prove who you really are.
Tell them to use this on social media, too, since many scammers will hack Facebook or Instagram accounts and pose as the person whose account they are using. If someone speaks up out of the blue asking for money, make sure it’s really them before helping.
Computers are ubiquitous now, and even younger adults can fall for technology scams. One common scam involves someone calling a person and claiming to be from “Microsoft”, saying that they have called to help them fix their computer, or because there is a serious issue with the potential victim’s internet. If the potential victim appears to believe the scammer, they will then ask the victim to turn on their PC and will connect to it remotely.
From here, the scam starts to vary.
They may install a virus onto the computer, or ask them to log in to their online banking, and steal the details in the process or lock the machine and demand money as “payment for fixing the issue”.
The best way to avoid these problems is to refuse to engage with unexpected callers. Install a call blocker on your loved one’s phones to block most unknown numbers/known scammers, and make sure that they know not to give out any information to someone who calls them unexpectedly.
Read my guide to cybersecurity tips for seniors for more details about protecting seniors from cyber crime.
Medicare/Health Insurance Scams
Medicare and health insurance are confusing enough at the best of times, and scammers know this. Medicare scams are similar to technology scams in that if a scammer calls a senior and says they are “from Medicaid” they have a high chance of the senior recognizing the ‘brand’ and being open to a conversation.
Again, explaining to your loved ones that they are unlikely to get a call “from Medicaid” will go a long way towards protecting them. Make sure that the seniors in your life know not to disclose personal details to unsolicited callers.
These details can easily be used to steal the senior’s identity. Read my Identity Theft Protection Tips for Seniors guide for more details.
Reverse Mortgage Scams
Many seniors find themselves facing financial uncertainty. They may own their home but have a small mortgage, and be worried about huge assisted living costs or care home costs in their future. Homeowner and reverse mortgage scams play on this fear.
Interest in reverse mortgages increased by 1300% between 1999 and 2008, and as they became more popular scammers saw that there was an opportunity to get in on the action.
Scammers may take advantage of publicly available information about individuals and the properties that they live in, and send official-looking letters claiming to be from the local authority/county assessor’s office. These letters will offer the homeowner the chance to have their property’s value reassessed, for a fee.
The appeal to homeowners is that if they can have their property’s value reduced in the eyes of the county assessor, they will pay less tax. Of course, the assessment that they pay for is not from the county assessor, and therefore the senior has wasted a lot of money.
Other scammers may be repairmen who get a commission from selling reverse mortgages, or even property buyers who want to pressure elderly people to sell their homes for less than they are worth.
Keep The Lines of Communication Open
The best thing that you can do to protect the seniors in your life from scams is to communicate with them and make them feel heard. No-one likes someone taking over their life or telling them what to do.
Seniors who have fallen prey to a scam, or fear that they may be about to, may be nervous about speaking up because they don’t want to appear foolish.
By being open, honest and kind to the seniors in your life you will make them feel confident that they can talk to you and you will be more likely to hear about the scams before the senior takes any action that will be difficult to undo.