It seems there’s no end to the number of scammers out there with nothing better to do but think of new ways to dupe seniors out of their money. Senior fraud has become so widespread that it’s even earned the reputation as “the crime of the 21st century,” reportedly costing seniors more than $3 billion annually.
But no one really knows even how big the problem actually is because when senior fraud is reported, it’s reported to different law enforcement agencies. One person may contact their local sheriff’s office, while another may call the state police or FBI, or an organization like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) rather than law enforcement.
To make matters worse, many people don’t report senior fraud at all because they’re too embarrassed about being scammed. And even when they do report, according to the FBI, they often make poor witnesses due to memory issues so they may not give investigators enough detailed information to catch the fraudsters. There’s also usually a time lapse between the time the fraud occurs and the time the senior realizes that they’ve been scammed, which may also affect their recall.
Just how do these scams work?
Well by now, you’ve probably heard of a few, but here is an example: A person calls on the phone posing as a Medicare representative and asks for personal information such as your social security number or bank account information. If they obtain the information, they use it to steal your identity, drain your bank account, or both.
Another popular scam is for someone to call your home posing as a loved one or friend of a loved one, saying your loved one has been in an accident and needs money. They may ask you to wire the money so they can get it quickly because it’s an emergency.
Scammers will often play on the emotions of seniors or attempt to create a sense of urgency, to try to get the senior to take action before they really have time to think about what they’re doing.
That’s why, as a general rule, seniors need to understand that they should never give their bank account information, social security number or other personal information to someone they don’t know and trust, especially if that person has contacted them.
Of course, this raises the question as to who should seniors trust because many seniors are actually financially exploited by people they do know and trust, such as family members, friends or caregivers who have access to their checkbooks, credit cards, cash and valuable belongings. But for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on anonymous scammers.
Why do so many scammers target seniors?
According to the FBI, senior citizens are particularly attractive to con artists because they’re likely to have a “nest egg,” own their home, and have excellent credit. Because they grew up in the 1930s-50s, they’re also generally polite and trusting, traits which scammers know how to exploit.
The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from fraudsters is to be educated and able to recognize scams, and if you’re not sure whether someone is scamming you, take no action until you can speak to a trusted family member or caregiver.
You can also do some proactive things so that you or your senior is less likely to be targeted by scammers in the first place.
Here are some proactive things you can do to avoid being targeted by scammers:
*Stop or reduce telemarketing calls by getting on the National Do Not Call Registry list. Visit www.donotcall.gov to add your name or call 888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register.
*Stop or reduce mail solicitations from credit card companies. The credit bureaus offer a toll-free number that lets you “opt out” of having pre-approved offers sent to you in the mail. Call 888-567-8688 or visit www.optoutprescreen.com for more information.
*Reduce other junk mail. You can remove your name from national advertising lists by registering at http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist/#regform for a nominal fee of $5. You can also register by mail by printing the online form, signing and mailing it.
*Get and review a free copy of your credit report annually by calling 877-322-8288 or visit www.annualcreditreport.com. Be sure to request that the report includes information from the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
*For a minimal fee, credit reporting agencies, credit card companies, financial institutions and organizations also offer free credit score monitoring, and will alert you of changes in your credit score or credit report. USAA, for example, offers a free service to its members called CreditCheck.
*Before getting work or services performed on or in your home, check with the appropriate agency in your state or locality to be sure the business is licensed. It’s also a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau in your area to see whether the business has had complaints filed against it.
*If you’re on social media, be careful about what information you share, and adjust your profile settings to limit the viewing of your information to people you know.