As we age, scammers and con artists see us as easy targets to prey on.
Yes, I am AARP eligible and my email, mail and voicemail are all full of “offers” or urgent messages saying I am going to be sued if I don’t take immediate action. But these scams can happen at any age. Just this week, I have received three phone calls implying I have done something wrong and something bad will happen if urgent action isn’t taken.
1. Don’t rely on caller ID to identify your caller. The display number can easily be dummied. A recent example is of a grandparent receiving a phone call from a grandchild “in trouble.” “Please don’t call Mom. I just need $1,000 for (fill in the blank.) Yes, I have a cold right now and don’t necessarily sound like myself. Here is where you need to send the money.” Then a call the next day saying the child needs a little more. Finally, on the third day the grandparent initiated a call to the grandchild to find out how they were doing, and the grandchild had no idea what was going on.
2. Don’t rely on email return addresses to be real either. We have received emails that look real, but don’t sound right. I work with one family that calls me by a nickname, known only to that family. I received an email addressing me by that nickname asking that I send a wire from their account. I didn’t recognize the recipient account and the email didn’t “feel” right, so I called the purported sender of the email. She had NOT sent me the email and was not authorizing a distribution from her account.
3. Never give out personal information without confirming independently with whom you are communicating. Scammers can pose as a health care representative to collect personal information and then file false claims.
4. Telemarketing and phone scams — This is the most prolific type of scam and since seniors are more accustomed to making purchases via phone, they end up being easy targets. Without a paper trail, it’s hard to trace exploitations, from pretending a relative is ill (see first example) and asking for money to be wired, to fake charities (especially after a national disaster) and any kind of payment by phone. Lonely seniors are even more susceptible as they appreciate someone to chat with.
5. Investment schemes — These run the gamut from investing in a fake startup to pyramid schemes to an African “prince” who needs help claiming inheritance. Investor beware.
6. Homeowner scams — Remember that some details about homeownership are public record. Use caution when items look government related and call if at all suspicious. Reverse mortgages are an easy target for seniors, but many of these entities don’t operate aboveboard.
7. Sweepstakes and lottery scams — The senior is notified of a prize but must make a “good faith” payment in order to redeem. Often, they are even sent a check to deposit — but while the bank is running the check, the scammer will take additional fees, etc. — when ultimately the check will bounce. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Knowledge and awareness are key to avoiding these fraudulent schemes. Look for red flags such as pressure to give personal information over the phone, make immediate transfers of funds or even threats to funds. Never be embarrassed to ask for a second opinion from a trusted friend or family member, and always report anything that seems suspicious. You can also place your number on the national Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov.