It is troublesome to consider the large numbers of Senior Citizens that fall victim to scams and fraud, but it is a real issue that deserves attention. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Seniors are likely targets for a number of reasons to include:
- Many Seniors find pride in developing a “nest egg”’ and building excellent credit. This makes them very attractive to con artists;
- Seniors may be less likely to report fraud because they don’t know who to report to or are ashamed they have been scammed;
- Seniors may be reluctant to report because they are afraid their family may view them as lacking mental capacity;
- Some seniors are affected by altered cognitive status and memory.
As an adult child, it is difficult to know if your loved one is falling victim to scams. It is important to be aware of common scams and open up conversations with your loved one in a non-judgmental way. The National Council on Aging (2017) outlines the top financial scams targeting seniors. Some of these scams have been occurring for some time, while others are gaining momentum:
- Funeral scams - A widow is targeted through obituaries. The scammer shows up to the funeral and claims the deceased had an outstanding debt.
- Phone scams - The two most common I have experienced are fake accidents and charity scams:
- Fake accident - The victim receives a call stating their loved one was in a serious accident, is in the hospital and needs money wired immediately to pay for emergency services. In my experience, the caller generally states the injured party is their grandchild.
- Grandparent scam - This scam is similar to the fake accident scam. The scammer will call the older person and say, “Hi Grandma, do you know how this is?” From there, the fake grandchild will ask for money. The fake grandchild may even beg the grandparent not to tell their parents. The fake grandchild now knows the name of the real grandchild and may call again and state, “Hi Grandma, this is “.
- Charity scams - Generally a small amount of money is requested. Once they have been given money, they tend to call multiple times afterwards to get more money. These scams are more prevalent after a natural disaster.
- Internet fraud - Pop-up windows simulating a virus-scanning software will trick the victim into downloading a virus or downloading a very expensive anti-virus program. These pop-ups can be convincing.
- Sweepstakes - I cannot tell you how many of these I have seen. With this scam, the Senior needs to send money to be eligible for a cash prize. I have seen many people send cash through the mail.
The Arizona Attorney General Office (n.d.) has a division dedicated to Protection of Senior Citizens. Other scams identified by the Attorney General Office include:
- Collections - Companies claim they are collecting a debt, when no debt is owed. They threaten lawsuits or arrest if payment is not received immediately.
- Door-to-Door Sales - A person comes to the door using fraudulent or high-pressure tactics to sell something that is not wanted or needed. This includes Home Improvement Schemes/Solicitations, which may include a free inspection, limited time offers or requires a decision on the spot. This scam seems to be on the rise.
- Predatory Lending - Loans that have excessive and disguised fees, inflated rates, and terms that often lead to default.
- Pyramid Schemes - A new recruit pays a sum of money to enter the program and as they bring other recruits; they move up the pyramid thus making more money.
- Travel Scams - A person claims a prize has been won but requires attending a presentation; high-pressure sales are used and membership rates are applied once a member.
- Moving Fraud - During the process of a move, items disappear, negotiated prices increase and goods may be held until payment is received.
While it may be tempting to give your parent a stern warning or completely take over finances, there are other tactics that may be more beneficial at least initially:
- Have a discussion with your loved one. Be open and honest and let your loved one know that you don’t want them to be the subject of a scam.
- Advise or educate on the following precautions:
- Do not give out personal information such as date of birth, social security number/Medicare number, credit card information, or checking account number to a solicitor.
- Do not give on impulse; obtain written information before donating money.
- Never give cash.
- Watch for charities with names that sound similar to well-known organizations.
- Watch for people offering free inspections, special time-limited deals, lacks identification, demands full payment up-front or helps to finance a project.
- Never sign a blank document.
- Read the fine print.
- Avoid Pyramid Schemes, new recruits rarely make money.
- Talk to you about any mail that appears fraudulent or to be a scam.
- If receiving a call, take down information and talk to you about the call. Scammers rarely provide contact information.
- Talk to you about presentations that they are planning on attending prior to going.
- Do not wire money or send a check to someone not known.
Other helpful tips include:
- Be aware of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
- Be aware of the Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling-Off Rule; in Arizona, a consumer has three days to cancel certain contracts.
- If considering home repairs get multiple estimates, compare bids and services, check out references, check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau, never pay in full up-front, ensure the contractor is insured and bonded, and get bids in writing.
- If planning a move:
- Research reputable companies
- Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints and history
- Check the license and registration
- Know your rights - the Federal Government publishes helpful booklets detailing your rights
- Take pictures
- Register all phone numbers with www.donotcall.gov
- If mail is concerning, have mail forwarded to you.
- Check credit reports regularly. If there are concerns, put a security freeze to prevent credit reporting companies from releasing the credit report without consent.
- If there are money concerns, take over bill payment. You may also need to replace credit cards and cash with a card that offers protection, such as a True Link Card:
- Check resources in your area. In Arizona, there is the Taskforce Against Senior Abuse (TASA). TASA follows up on complaints and works to protect the elderly against fraud and abuse.
- If you live out of state, consider hiring someone to be your eyes and ears. Aging Life Care Experts can be a great resource to you and your family:
While it can be scary to think of the potential for fraud and abuse of your aging loved ones, being proactive may protect your loved one from losing money to a scammer. Being reactive to these situations costs a lot of time, patience and often times, money as well. If you found this blog helpful, share it with your friends so they too know how to protect their aging loved one.
- Arizona Attorney General (n.d.). Senior Consumer Scams. Retrieved from
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (n.d.) Scams and Safety. Retrieved from
- National Council on Aging (2017). Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors. Retrieved from
Keep in mind, your parent is losing a part of their independence, which is difficult for anyone, at any age. To find an Aging Life Care Expert in your area, go to www.aginglifecare.org
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