Scams and frauds are truly some of the lowest forms of exploitive crime, namely because their effectiveness is based on playing off the victim’s emotions. Whether it’s using fear tactics, promises of financial security, or even the enticement of a loving relationship, scams require some form of mental investment on the part of the victims. This investment can lead to feelings of mistrust and depression once the victim is aware of the crime.
While all forms of scams are awful, ones that prey on the elderly seem to be the worst. Why? Because elder scams typically target individuals who have an inherent sense of trust in others, a certain level of naivety about technology and crime, a fear of appearing incompetent to care for themselves, and worst of all, a limited income. Victims who are trusting, unaware, and who don’t have spare money to waste on criminals should be off-limits, but instead, they’re the prime targets for thieves.
Here are some of the top forms of elder scams and fraud that senior citizens need to watch out for:
- Utilities scams – Seniors are often targeted by individuals who pose as representatives from a utility company, such as the phone, power, or gas companies. The reason is simple: with the threat of losing their service hanging over their heads, elderly residents are likely to pay up. If an agent calls to say that your gas bill is overdue and your heat is about to be cut off, or someone calls and states that your electricity is about to be suspended for non-payment, hang up immediately and call the utility company directly using a verified phone number. There’s an excellent chance it was the work of a random-dialer scam artist, but it will give you peace of mind to know that the matter is resolved. You’ll also be helping the utility companies remain aware of an active scammer in their area.
- Lotteries or Sweepstakes Scam – Callers go after senior citizens with scams involving lotteries or sweepstakes largely because most seniors could stand to use a little extra money. Even with the most meticulous planning for retirement, there’s a prevalent concern about having enough money set aside to weather any illness or medical condition, to pay for supervised care should the need arise, or just to leave a little inheritance to loved ones. So scammers play off of those feelings by promising you instant wealth in exchange for paying the “taxes and fees.” Remember, you will never be called and told you’ve won some mysterious prize, especially one that you don’t remember entering. If you’re ever informed that you’ve won money and only need to pay some upfront fees to claim it, walk away immediately.
- Phone scams – There’s an awful stereotype surrounding older adults—one of loneliness, coupled with an abundance of free time on their hands during the day—that makes them ripe for phone scams. Using basic robo-dial processes or lists of consumer information, scammers call and offer everything from free trial offers, account assistance, or even ominous threats from agencies like the IRS. By assuming the potential victims will be home to take the call and easily frightened into compliance, scammers are able to bilk older victims out of a lot of money. Even more alarming, many senior victims have admitted to not reporting the scam because they felt guilty for being so gullible, or were concerned about having their mental faculties called into question.
- Health care scams – Whether it’s an irate billing clerk or someone posing as a Medicare agent, senior citizens are easy targets for health care scams. The reasons are simple. First, once a citizen reaches the age of 65, Medicare is automatic; that means a scammer doesn’t have to phish around in the dark for an unwitting victim. Also, as a whole, elderly adults receive more frequent health care visits, meaning threatening callers posing as a billing clerk are more likely to be believable. Remember, your health care is a privacy issue. If anyone contacts you concerning an unpaid bill, asking for “verification” of your Medicare account, or any other health-related issue, refuse to comply. Contact your health care provider or the Medicare office directly if you have questions or concerns, and do not give out your personal data to someone who contacts you by phone.
If you think that you, or someone you know, may have fallen victim to one of these scams, or a scam of another kind, please do not hesitate to call us and speak with an Identity Theft Information Specialist. You can receive free help by dialing 888.400.5530, via LiveChat or email us at ITRC@idtheftcenter.org.