Senior Scams and How to Avoid Them

March 14th, 2014

Scamming has become so prevalent in society that popular talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil have dedicated entire segments to the topic! Scammers will stop at nothing to get what they want, and seniors and the disabled are common prey for scam artists. Arm yourself with one of the best tools to combat scammer: knowledge. Knowledge is power and one of the best ways to making yourself and your loved ones less vulnerable is learning about what’s going on out there, being aware of your surroundings and knowing how to defend yourself.

A popular scam affecting seniors nationwide is one in which the senior receives a call from someone claiming to be with their county’s medical office and requesting credit card information to charge a certain amount of money to “ensure the continuation of medical coverage.” There is no reason why you should be charged to continue your medical coverage. Furthermore, you should be weary of distributing any financial information to anybody, let alone somebody with whom you are not familiar.

Social Security Scams

Scammers prey on the most vulnerable and rough economic times have undoubtedly increased the prevalence of scamming, especially as it relates to money and finance. The scam experts at Scam Busters detail a direct mail scam out there is targeting seniors by distributing letters offering an extra Social Security Check in exchange for a filing fee. The letter asks for money, bank account information and/or the victim’s Social Security number to “file the application.” What are the people behind this letter really trying to do? Steal your money and, potentially, your identity by obtaining your personal information.

Health Insurance Scams

The state of the economy and unemployment coupled with a growing number of people who are uninsured make a recipe for disaster for those who are most vulnerable to scams. Some sneaky scammers will use the name of senior care organizations and claim to offer secondary health insurance services, asking for credit card and other financial information. This is a scam, pure and simple.

Counterfeit Coupon Scams

With the economy as it is, we’re all looking for ways to save money. Cutting coupons each week to save on groceries is a great means of cutting costs, but the Internet makes this seemingly harmless practice risky. According to an article by AARP, a surge in counterfeit coupons can cost you more in the long run.

Top Scams Targeting Seniors

Here are the top 10 scams targeting seniors according to The National Council on Aging (NCOA)

  • Health Insurance Fraud
  • Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
  • Funeral & Cemetery Scams
  • Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
  • Telemarketing
  • Internet Fraud
  • Investment Schemes
  • Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams
  • Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams
  • The Grandparent Scam

Research: Seniors More Susceptible to Scams

We’ve all been there. That suspicious feeling we get when companies send e-mails trying to sell products out of the blue or a smiling face tries to convince you to buy his product at your door. But this is not always the case with the elderly who have increasingly become the targets for scammers. And according to a study in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, there’s a physiological reason older people fall for these scams.

The study explains that seniors can tend to miss visual cues that someone is trustworthy, and their brains don’t send out as many panic signals that trouble is imminent. In fact, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles found that a part of the brain called the anterior insula was muted from elderly people when glancing at photos of suspicious-seeming individuals. This part of the brain activates gut-level feelings that help individuals interpret the reliability of other people and assess potential risks and rewards associated with social interactions.

“The warning signals that convey a sense of potential danger to younger adults just don’t seem to be there for older adults,” said Shelley Taylor, the lead researcher and a professor of psychology at UCLA. And this research is reflected in the latest statistics, which show that older people are being financially exploited more often. According to a study published by the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, elder financial abuse, which can range anywhere from fraudulent sweepstakes to bank account seizure from legal guardians, totaled $2.9 billion, a 12 percent increase from two years prior.

Resources to Help Prevent Scams

AARP
AARP is a membership organization leading positive social change and delivering value to people age 50 and over through information, advocacy and service. Find the latest scams and fraud news and issues including identity theft protection, credit card fraud and internet scams

Do Not Call Registry
The National Do Not Call Registry gives you a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls at home. The National Do Not Call Registry is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Provides tips on how you can protect you and your family from fraud, with an emphasis on scams that target seniors.

Fraud.org
Fraud.org is a project of the National Consumers League. Fraud.org is the product of more than two decades of consumer education and advocacy related to Internet and telemarketing fraud prevention.

National Center on Elder Abuse
Directed by the U.S. Administration on Aging, NCEA is a resource for policy makers, social service and health care practitioners, the justice system, researchers, advocates, and families.

The best thing we can do is come together and promote awareness to better protect those who are most vulnerable.
Resources: