As adults in our productive years, we’re all very well aware of the dangers of scams. The internet, mail and other media are filled with sometimes subtle, sometimes unscrupulous attempts by scammers to get their hands on our savings. In the majority of cases we’re able to tell when it’s really not right to provide our credit card information or send a pre-signed check. But what about your parents?
Coincidentally, this week the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared June 2016 Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Awareness Month, which was the main inspiration for writing this article. Let’s stay well informed, for the sake of the elderly, and help them avoid pitfalls.
The numbers are alarming. People over the age of 65 are 34% more likely to lose money due to a financial scam than people in their 40s*. In a large 2014 study of New York residents, almost 1 in 20 elderly respondents reported being financially exploited at some point later in life.
What is even worse, the number of actual reports is surprisingly low, especially due to embarrassment in front of family.
That’s why it’s so important keep track of the various tricks the scammers use to steal from our seniors. Below you’ll find a list of what to look out for.
Someone calls you and claims to be your long lost second cousin or a great-grandchild. Enough movies have been filmed about this topic to prove that in 99% of the cases, this ends up being a complete nightmare. It is almost hard to believe that this happens in real life as well. And that the imposters, once they’ve earned the senior’s trust, are able to lure significant amounts of money out of them, because they pretend to be a family member in distress.
Telemarketing’s best years are long gone. And yet, seniors are still profitable targets, mainly due to the fact that phone purchases are something they are far more familiar with thanks to their popularity before online shopping took over. It’s not even so much about being lonely (although in some cases it is, making the whole issue even sadder), but more about still trusting the old ways.
IRS/Justice Department scams
Very often scammers will pretend to be a part of the Internal Revenue Service or the Justice Department, threatening the tax payer with a missing payment, requiring an immediate correction. They’re not afraid of threatening with arrest or driver’s license confiscation. Better not rely on the caller ID, as nowadays you can make even that look like the real thing.
Lottery/special services scams
The message here is very simple: you’ve been randomly chosen and you’ve won a considerable amount of money. All you need to do is to pay the tax up front and / or pay a certain kind of fee before the money can be transferred to your bank account.
The same goes for all the oracles, healers and other magicians who just need you to send them a fee that seems pathetic compared to the unparalleled services they are offering you in return.
The internet is a wonderful place, but it may be hard to navigate, especially for those who didn’t grow up carrying it around in their pockets. This whole topic could do with its own blog post, but for now, let’s point out the main dangers for the elderly surfers:
Pop-up browser windows can be a source of many undesired complications. They may claim that you’re a lottery winner, promise magical cures, pretend to be virus scanners that make you download unknown software, and much more.
Scammers have become masters of make-believe. They will pretend to be your bank, your health insurance company or any other institution you’re expected to trust, and they will ask you to update or verify your personal information (including payment info) by filling it in on their website.
Counterfeit prescription drugs
In this case, scammers are taking advantage of elderly people looking up medication online for better prices. Aside from the financial harm these fake drug vendors can cause, it may also be a great risk to purchase substances of unknown origin from uncertified sources.
As hideous as all the described scam methods are, the last one might just be the worst of them all. The most hard-bitten scammers will go through obituaries and attend strangers’ funerals, taking advantage of the grieving spouse, pretending to be a lender to the deceased and trying to get the installment for a non-existent loan.
Unfortunately, this list could go on and on. Elderly citizens are vulnerable targets, and scammers realize this and shamelessly profit on it. It is important for us to be aware of this vulnerability, and keep our seniors well-informed and prepared, so that when a scammer knocks on their door, they will know exactly what to tell them. And what to not tell them, in the first place.
* according the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation