Protecting Seniors Against Fraud, Con Artists & Scams

OPHC1This information was presented at a monthly meeting of the OPHC and was a Continuing Education Unit event.

Much of the information located in this document is from the copyrighted book, “Protecting Your Nest Egg” by Page Cole.  You may use this information as long it is not being sold or reproduced for sale.

 

Protecting Your Nest Egg

Fraud Protection for Senior Citizens from Con Artists, Thieves & Scams


Table of Contents

UNDERSTANDING WHY SENIORS ARE AT GREAT RISK

WHY ARE THE ELDERLY LESS LIKELY TO REPORT SCAMS

Work to Convince Seniors of Their Genuine Risk Regarding Scams

CURRENT & COMMON SCAMS

ONLINE SCAMS

IRS IMPOSTOR PHONE SCAM

FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION BY RELATIVES & CAREGIVERS

SCAMS INVOLVING MEDICARE DRUG PLANS

POINTERS FOR A FRAUD-FREE VACATION

 SCAM PREVENTION WORKSHEET

 SCAM RISK SURVEY

 REMEMBER THESE IMPORTANT FACTS!

 TEN LAWS OF PROTECTION FOR SENIORS

 CONTACT INFORMATION

 SOURCES

 

 

“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.”   Tia Walker, The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love

Sift through the fondest memories of your heart.  Walk slowly through visions of your past, and pause for moment.  Pause at those moments of deep love, at those instances of greatest warmth and joy.  If you’re like most, many of those visions include elderly grandparents, sweet little old ladies at church or elderly teachers and neighbors.

 

Seniors hold a special place in our hearts and histories for a various reasons.   For some it’s because they came alongside us at a time in our life where we needed an encouraging word or a hand up, and they were there to offer it.  For others, it was a word of wisdom at just the right time, and that wisdom changed our family, our faith in our selves or our futures.  And for the rest of us, it may just be that a senior in our past was there for us when no one else was.

 

But something has happened in our culture.  Where seniors once occupied a place of respect and honor, they have now become an easy mark to the thieves and scam artists.  Rather than respect the position of dignity seniors have earned over the years, criminals take advantage of the weakened physical state, loneliness and susceptible state many of our elderly find themselves in.  The end result for seniors is an empty bank account and a broken spirit.

 

So how do we keep this from happening?  We educate.  We inform.  We guard our seniors from these scam artists by being aware and protective of their finances and their hearts.

 

Protecting our seniors is not something we “can” do, or “should” do.  We MUST protect them at all costs.

 

Abraham J Heschel once said, “A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”    Let it be said of our generation that we were faithful to protect and care for our seniors.

 

UNDERSTANDING WHY SENIORS ARE AT GREATER RISK AS TARGETS OF SCAMS & OTHER CRIMES

Seniors as a group tend to be a greater target for many reasons.  Among those reasons are:

 

  • Seniors tend to allow shame and embarrassment to keep them from sharing about their scam with family, friends or law enforcement;

 

  • Seniors are more vulnerable than younger adults, especially if they have become widowed;

 

  • The elderly tend to be much less likely to try to fight back than median age or younger adults;

 

  • Since seniors are more likely to have trouble with their hearing or sight, they can be more easily fooled;

 

  • With age and the possible onset of various health conditions, their thought processes may not be as sharp. This is even more dangerous if the senior has experienced the onset of any form of dementia;

 

  • They are less able to protect themselves both physically and emotionally;

 

  • Injuries to the elderly are more likely to be very serious or life threatening;

 

  • With limited or fixed incomes and a tough economy, many seniors level of desperation pushes them to take risks they might not normally take with their finances;

 

  • It’s easy for seniors to feel neglected or detached from busy family members; they become very receptive to the suggestions or direction of others who will pay them attention or spend time with them;

 

  • Seniors tend to be less technologically savvy, and are much more like to be tricked with online scams.

 

  • Seniors tend to have larger cash reserves and resources, making them a much higher priority as a target for scammers.

 

  • An AARP study noted that seniors place themselves at a greater risk for being a victim of fraud by doing seemingly innocent things like entering drawings, contests and sweepstakes for the promise of free trips, vacations or prizes; attending free seminars; sitting through time share or others sales pitch meetings; and reading and accepting junk mail offers,


WHY ARE THE ELDERLY LESS LIKELY TO REPORT SCAMS?

So why do seniors who have been scammed fail to immediately contact family and/or the authorities?  Don’t they want their money back?  Aren’t they interested in doling out justice to the liars who have taken advantage of them?  Typically, seniors fail to report these kinds of scams to anyone.  The reasons for this failure to respond vary.

  • More often than not, seniors tend to worry about what their family might do if they find out. Grown children can react or overreact by grossly limiting or even removing their parent’s access to their own money.  Although this may very well be in the senior’s best interest, it can be both frightening and humiliating for the senior.
  • Defrauded seniors also blame themselves for what happened. Remember, this senior has been a productive and thoughtful member of society.  They’ve held down jobs, raised families and volunteered in their community.  No one is more disappointed in them than they are themselves.  They might even adopt the belief that they deserve what they got, for not paying more attention or being more discerning.
  • Personal pride may also play a part in their response to being scammed. Seniors may believe that they are smart enough or savvy enough to get their money back on their own without any assistance from others.  As seniors age, their control of so much of the different areas can slip away- their health, driving ability, even finances.   For many this is a matter of life long pride.  “I got myself into this pickle, so I can get myself out of it,” is their mantra.
  •  Sadly enough, many scammed seniors are related to or have a prior relationship with the person who scammed them. When it is a loved one, friend or business acquaintance that has scammed them, they may determine that the relationship is more valuable to them than the assets are.  In deference to keeping the relationship with a nephew, neighbor or friend, they will just keep quiet and take the loss.
  •  Another reason seniors may stay silent about their loss is that they are afraid the person who scammed them might retaliate. This is a very real concern for seniors who have become feeble or dependent upon others for the most basic needs of life.  They scenario is more likely the case when intimidation was a part of the initial scam.  Seniors who have been scammed would rather face the fear of lost money than the retaliation of the scammer.
  •  The prospect of going through the court system and dealing with lawyers, law enforcement and judges scares many people, and seniors are no different. Seniors face unknown or unrealistic fears about what new legal fees they might face.  With investment schemes, there may even be concerns on the part of the senior that they themselves might have a legal problem.
  •  Don’t forget, many seniors are totally embarrassed about what has happened to them. This is by far the most prominent reason seniors fail to report scams and frauds.  They can’t believe that they were gullible enough to lose so much money.  They certainly don’t want others to look down on them or ridicule them for this failure, so instead they just stay silent.
  •  If the victim is a resident of a nursing home, assisted living facility or retirement community, they may fear they would get kicked out of their home. Again, this may have been an intimidation tactic employed by an employee of the facility who scammed them, or simply a seed of fear planted in their mind by the scammer.
  • Believe it or not, some seniors are unaware that what happened to them was a crime. As strange as that may seem, some seniors may not understand the criminal nation of the fraud that has been committed against them.
  • Finally, some will fail to report the crime simply because they are afraid that there aren’t enough facts to prove they were scammed. No one goes into one of these situations believing or expecting that they are being scammed.  With an attitude of trust, and feelings of excitement about this new endeavor, many times well meaning and intelligent seniors may not be as focused on details and record keeping as they should be.  As a result, there are verbal contracts, handshakes and gentlemen’s agreements, rather than documented paperwork and legitimate contracts.
  • The National Consumers League’s National Fraud Infor­mation Center constantly monitors issues regarding scams and fraud across the country. They estimate that of all telemarketing fraud victims, nearly 1/3 of them are over 60 years old.

 

 

HELP THEM UNDERSTAND THEIR VULNERABILITY TO SCAMS

Seniors haven’t always been old… and they haven’t always been as vulnerable as they are now.  They need to be educated in a way that helps them become aware and guarded, while at the same time maintaining their integrity and self-esteem.  Many believe that it’s only the lonely, isolated or foolish seniors that fall prey to scams.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

  • Retired teachers, physicians and a variety of well informed and educated professionals fall prey to the wiles of scam artists every day.
  • We all want to believe that dreams can come true! We all hope some day we will get that call from Publisher’s Clearing House, or see our stock choices take off overnight!  Many seniors have worked hard, & it’s easy to be convinced that their day has come.  Family members are shocked when seniors react with frustration or anger if their optimistic response to a scam is questioned.
  • Seniors come from a generation where courtesy is always in style. Many seniors would NEVER consider hanging up on someone; they believe even strangers deserve their courtesy. Scammers know this, and manipulate the good will and traditional heart of the Greatest Generation & Baby Boomers to their advantage.
  • Remind them that it’s hard to discern who’s really honest. Building a good relationship, creating an atmosphere of urgency, building excitement, building a sense of “need” in the senior- these are the tactics of both great salespeople and criminal shysters as well.
  • Warn them that the power of consistent pressure is overwhelming. Just check the mailbox of the typical senior.  It is FULL of junk mail offering deals on property for sale, offers to work from home and get rich, and “add to your nest egg” offers.  The numbers of scams thrown at seniors is mind boggling.
  • Discourage immediate trust from being the natural reaction. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is the normal reaction for most seniors.  They sound nice, they seem nice, so the person on the other side of the phone must BE nice, or so they believe.


LOOK OUT: TEACH SENIORS TO RECOGNIZE THE WARNING SIGNS OF FRAUD

So how do you help seniors be aware of the signal fires of fraud?  How can we equip them to spot the tell tail markers of typical scammers?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • LOOK OUT if the caller refuses to stop calling after someone asks not to be called again. People truly working on commission in sales will not chase after cold leads.  If someone continues to pursue them after being rebuffed, it’s a danger sign that the motives of the caller may be dishonorable or even criminal.
  • LOOK OUT if there is a request or demand to purchase or pay something to enter a contest, collect a prize, or even the suggestion that your odds might increase if you spend some money. Not only is it dishonest, it’s illegal. There is nothing inherently wrong with contests or sweepstakes.  Many seniors enjoy entering these on a regular basis.  The number one danger sign is the request for money.  RUN, RUN, RUN AWAY!
  • LOOK OUT if the promise to win money or prizes, make easy money with little or no effort, or borrow money for nothing is the pitch. Even the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes requires you to complete an entry form!   Truly, you can’t expect to get something for nothing, or even next to nothing.  One easy tool to discern whether a deal is a scam or not is simply to ask, “Is this designed to appeal to my greed, or to my business sense?”  If it’s the “easy money” deal, that’s a lure to draw you in.  Don’t buy the lie.
  • LOOK OUT if someone requests your bank account number, Social Security Number or credit card number. You should never ever, not ever, no never give out your bank account number, Social Security number or credit card you don’t know and trust.   The only exceptions to this rule would be that you are absolutely certain of the person asking for it.  Obviously we give out this information at the Emergency Room or when applying for a loan.  But much greater discretion should be used when doing ANYTHING on the internet.   Not only that, when one of your credit card companies or banks contacts you about your account, it’s always a good idea to hang up and contact them back directly.  Scammers can mask their telephone number on your caller ID to make it look like they are your mortgage company or your credit card vendor.  Hang up and call them back using the number on the paperwork you’ve received directly from them.
  • LOOK OUT if you are pressed for an immediate response or a fast response. Criminals don’t want you to have time to think about it, or to check with a loved one.  Their goal is to get any money, get it quickly, and get away.  If you are being pressed for an immediate answer, purchase or decision, simply hang up or walk away.
  • LOOK OUT if the caller or salesperson is using scare tactics to push you into a decision to buy or commit to spend money. Refer back to the last point.  You don’t owe ANYONE an immediate answer, so cut it off, walk away and don’t look back!
  • LOOK OUT if someone asks you to wire money, send a gift card, use a courier or put money on a “money card” and send that as payment. This is the most obvious sign that you are being scammed.  Once you have sent the gift card, money card or wired the money, it’s gone for good. Legitimate businesses will take standard forms of payment, and not require jumping through strange financial hoops like money cards or wiring funds.
  • LOOK OUT if someone asks for an upfront fee to get a loan, guarantee a loan, or even to imply that a loan will be made. They can’t promise that, and it’s illegal for them to do so.  In fact, you might watch their reaction when you tell them that requiring any fees paid up front for a loan is illegal.  When you see defensiveness or anger, you’ll know that the scammer realizes he’s just been caught, and he’s looking for a way out!
  • LOOK OUT if someone is unwilling or reticent about sending you written information about something before you buy it.  Legitimate purchases or investments always come with some kind of documentation.  You should be able to cross reference this information with the local Better Business Bureau, as well as do your own research on the internet about the company and/or the opportunity.
  • LOOK OUT from anyone who wants even a minimal payment from you before getting the details about the offer or opportunity. Remember, many scammers aren’t committed to getting big money; they just want any money they can get and get away with.

 

PAY ATTENTION!  BE AWARE OF SIGNALS THAT SENIORS HAVE BEEN VICTIMIZED OR ARE AT GREAT RISK

The following signals may alert loved ones and friends that they may have already fallen pray to a scam.   Here are the top ten ways you can Pay Attention and protect yourself or your loved ones!

  • PAY ATTENTION if you see a large number of magazine or book club subscriptions. This could be a warning that they are looking for the “quick, easy money”.  Many scammers use a “legitimate” front to build a trust relationship with seniors before taking advantage of them.
  • PAY ATTENTION to an increase in the number of incoming phone calls. If the senior has seen a pick up in number of phone calls regarding donations to charity or touting special offers, they may be the target of one or more scammers.
  • PAY ATTENTION if you become aware that they are struggling to pay their normal bills, buy gasoline and food or pay their utilities. This is a warning signal that they may have used funds set aside for necessities in other ways, and may have actually lost important living expenses money to scammers.  You will also want to take notice if a senior who has never needed to borrow money is suddenly asking for a quick, short term loan.
  • PAY ATTENTION by taking immediate action if you become aware of potential fraud. Cancel credit cards or close bank accounts if you feel like they have or may have been compromised by scammers or thieves.  Especially be concerned if the senior has used their debit card to purchase something expensive.   Whereas most credit card companies have some measure of fraud protection built into them, once the money is gone from a checking or savings account through the use of a debit card, it is gone for good.
  • PAY ATTENTION if you notice odd new products around the home. Things such as beauty products, jewelry, health/nutritional aides or weight loss products can be hints that something is wrong.  Also, notice if they have trinket prizes that were purchased with hopes to win something larger or more valuable.  Con artists will take advantage of seniors by luring them in with “instant wins” of smaller items, with the hope of scoring the big prize later.  The only problem is that there is never any big prize later, only a discouraged senior and an empty bank account.
  • PAY ATTENTION if the senior has seen an increase in sweepstakes, prize & contest mail and email. Mail and sweepstakes fraud are one of the easiest way these criminals take advantage of seniors!  Mailing and phone number lists are for sale all across the internet with the information for people who have a track record of purchasing things through the mail, and for participating in contests/sweepstakes.  If the name of you or a loved one is on one of the lists, you can be sure it’s on many of these lists.  The unscrupulous people who purchase this information are interested in one thing only… taking someone else’s hard earned money for them.
  • PAY ATTENTION if you become aware that “financial recovery specialists” are contacting the senior. If they are contacted by individuals or companies promising to recover money lost to fraud, especially if they want to charge a fee for this service, may actually be scammers themselves.  These individuals make it sound so simple.  Simply give them your SSN and your bank account number, and they will recover any bad debts owed to you, or even tax refunds or inheritances you did know about!  .
  • PAY ATTENTION if you become aware that they have started making consistent and repetitive payments to strange companies. It’s especially dangerous if those companies are located out of state or out of country.  Be very cautious about phone calls that have unusual 2 digit numbers at the beginning- these are international calls, and once your money or information has crossed the borders of the USA, it’s gone for good.  In some foreign countries it is a badge of honor to steal, but especially to steal from Americans.
  • PAY ATTENTION if you sense tension between a senior and either a friend or family member regarding finances. It could be that a loved one has actually preyed on the senior and abused the relationship for financial gain.  Dig for details immediately and without reservation put a stop to any money or cash transfers that have been hidden or seem improper.  Don’t hesitate to bring in other family members or law enforcement if you believe something illegal has taken place.
  • PAY ATTENTION by changing the phone number if scammers repeatedly contact the senior, or won’t stop calling back. In addition, don’t hesitate to contact the authorities and turn the number in to them for harassment and potential elder abuse.   Doing so may protect other seniors in the area from being scammed, or assist law enforcement in apprehending the criminals and possibly recovering any lost assets.


EDUCATE SENIORS TO LIMIT SCAMMERS ACCESS TO THEM

Educate seniors with tips on reducing the onslaught of unsolicited junk mail pieces and dinner time phone calls from telemarketers.

  •  IT’S IMPORTANT TO KNOW HOW TO AVOID “MAKING THE LIST”.    Seniors may not understand that by filling out the sweepstakes and contest entries, both hard copies and online, can land them on lists as potential suckers. Demand that companies you do business with protect and not share your information with anyone for any reason.
  • KNOW THAT YOU HAVE RIGHTS TO BE TAKEN OFF THEIR LISTS. Federal law dictates that you can order a telemarketer not to call you ever again. Simply go to the website ftc.gov/donotcall  or call 1-888-382-1222 to put your numbers on the list.  You may also put your cell phone on the list.  Enforcement in these areas is fairly lax, but don’t let that stop you from registering and making the call to the police.  Many of these criminals will simply take your name off the list if you confront them because they don’t want even a small chance of the police catching on to what they are doing.
  • KNOW EXACTLY WHO IT IS YOU’RE DOING BUSINESS WITH. Unfamiliar companies, charities and online businesses should be screened by taking advantage of the Better Business Bureau and any other local or state consumer protection agencies.  Many times a simple Google Search will provide information about companies you are unsure of.  Although some criminals are very creative, many would fall into the “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” category.  Some of these scammers move from one part of the country to another, and are simply too lazy to change their methods or name, but simply set up shop in a new region.  Doing a minimal amount of online research may result in tons of savings and heartache.
  • KNOW HOW TO SCREEN YOUR CALLS.  You can use voice mail, an answering machine, Caller ID or phone services to screen your calls if you feel you are being harassed.   One important note, however, is that software exists that allows the caller to put whatever name and phone number he or she wants to appear on your Caller ID.  Since that technology is abused to take advantage of unwary seniors, it’s always smart to ask for the name of the company, and see if you can get their main phone number through the phone book or through calling 411 Information, and then calling them back on that legitimate number.  If someone calls telling you they represent one of your current credit cards or other accounts, tell them you will call them back on their advertised numbers.  If the caller becomes belligerent or confrontational with that approach, you can be certain that they are definitely a phony.  You don’t owe it to any caller to implicitly trust that what they are telling you is in fact the truth.
  • KNOW WHAT YOUR PLAN IS FOR DEALING WITH TELEMARKETERS. Make a list of the questions you would want to ask before the phone ever rings.  Be direct and courteous, but exercise your right to hang up if they are unwilling to answer your questions or you sense something is off.  Questions you might ask are: “Where did you get my name and phone information?” or “Did you know that my name is on the National ‘Do Not Call’ list, and that this call is being recorded?”  You could also ask, “Can I speak to your supervisor?”, or “Would you please take me off of your list immediately?  By the way, what was your name again?”  Last but not least, my favorite question of all is, “I don’t really have time to visit right now, but I would like to talk to you about this later?  Can I have your home number so I can call you later?  What? You don’t want a stranger calling you at home?  ME NEITHER!”, and then hang up!
  • KNOW THAT DATA COLLECTION IS BIG BUSINESS. Businesses have their own version of Caller ID, the Automatic Number Identification (ANI). This allows the company to quickly access your information if you have an account with the company, and retrieve your records and vital information quickly.  That being said, some companies will abuse the ANI and use it for marketing purposes.  It’s your right to question what info is being collected.   You also have a right to tell the company that you don’t want to be put on a marketing list.   Believe it or not, here are some of the pieces of information that are gathered on individuals, and then sold across thousands of different lists:
  • Social Security Number
  • Shopping preferences
  • Health information, including diet type, allergies, arthritis, incontinence/bladder problems, diabetes, hearing loss, prostate problems, and visual impairment, birth defects
  • Marital status
  • Financial situation (solvency, creditworthiness, loan amounts, credit cards)
  • Date of Birth
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Household income
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Geography
  • Physical characteristics, such as height and weight
  • Household occupants (whether an individual has children)
  • Telephone number
  • Utility usage (electric or gas usage, telephone usage, cable or satellite usage, Internet subscription, cellular phone usage)
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Occupation
  • Level of education
  • Likelihood to respond to “money-making opportunities”
  • Congressional district
  • Size of clothes worn
  • Habits (smoking)
  • Arrest records
  • Lifestyle preferences
  • Hobbies (whether and what the individual collects)
  • Religion (affiliation and denomination)
  • Homeownership
  • Characteristics of residence (size, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, sale price, rent and mortgage payments)
  • Type of automobile owned
  • Characteristics of automobile owned (year, make, value, fuel type, number of cylinders, presence of vanity or special membership plates)
  • Whether the individual responds to direct mail solicitations
  • Contributions to political, religious, and charitable groups
  • Membership in book, video, tape, and compact disk clubs
  • Mail order purchases and type
  • Product ownership (beeper, contact lenses, electronics, fitness equipment, recreational equipment)
  • Pet ownership and type
  • Interests (including gambling, arts, antiques, astrology)
  • Book preferences
  • Music preferences
  • “Socialites”

 

One major profiling company actually has individuals classified in various identifiable groups.  That list includes:

  • “Elite Suburbs” (Blue Blood Estates, Winner’s Circle, Executive Suites, Pools & Patios, Kids & Cul-de-Sacs).
  • “Urban Uptown” (Urban Gold Coast, Money & Brains, Young Literati, American Dreams, Bohemian Mix).
  • “2nd City Society” (Second City Elite, Upward Bound, Gray Power).
  • “Landed Gentry” (Country Squires, God’s Country, Big Fish Small Pond, Greenbelt Families).
  • “Affluentials” (Young Influentials, New Empty Nests, Boomers & Babies, Suburban Sprawl, Blue-Chip Blues)
  • “Inner Suburbs” (Upstarts & Seniors, New Beginnings, Mobility Blues, Gray Collars).
  • “Urban Midscale” (Urban Achievers, Big City Blend, Old Yankee Rows, Mid-City Mix, Latino America).
  • “2nd City Center” (Middleburg Managers, Boomtown Singles, Starter Families, Sunset City Blues, Towns & Gowns).
  • “Exurban Blues” (New Homesteaders, Middle America, Red White and Blues, Military Quarters).
  • “Country Families” (Big Sky Families, New Eco-topia, River City USA, Shotguns and Pickups).
  • “Urban Cores” (Single City Blues, Hispanic Mix, Inner Cities).
  • “2nd City Blues” (Smalltown Downtown, Hometown Retired, Family Scramble, Southside City).
  • “Working Towns” (Golden Ponds, Rural Industria, Norma Rae-ville, Mines and Mills).
  • “Heartlanders” (Agri-Business, Grain Belt).
  • “Rustic Living” (Blue Highways, Rustic Elders, Back Country Folks, Scrub Pine Flats, Hard Scrabble).

 

The names and information on these lists, names like YOURS and YOUR LOVED ONE, can sell for as little as $65 per thousand names. It’s easy to see why scammers would want to purchase the information of target groups that fit the mold of their “perfect mark”.

  • KNOW THAT SCAMS WILL ONLY STOP WHEN VICTIMS STEP UP. If you or a senior know of a scam or fraud has or is taking place, then report it to the National Fraud Information Center, 800-876-7060, M-F, 9 am to 5 pm, or at www.fraud.org.  That information will be transmitted to law enforcement agencies.  (Copied from fraud.org)  Scam artists love to target the elderly. Seniors can easily fall victim to scams that prey on their emotions in an effort to drain their bank account. Here’s how to protect yourself!

 

 

 


CURRENT & COMMON SCAMS

There are a number of scams aimed at taking advantage of seniors that are among the most common scams currently working the senior circuit.

Home Remodels or Home/Auto Repairs

These scams can involve driveway repair, roof and guttering repair, or any number of housing remodels.  A newer version of this scam involves phony roof repairmen moving through towns that have suffered major wind, hail or storm damage, and signing quick inexpensive contracts for repair.  After the initial down payment is made, the repairmen do a quick substandard repair job and get their final payment, or they simply vanish without ever lifting a finger.  Either way, the remodel isn’t done or done well, and the individual has been scammed.  Tips to help protect seniors from home repair scams include:

  • Never let a repairman pressure you into making a quick or immediate decision about hiring them or doing a specific repair;
  • Before you hire any contractor, check him out using a service like AngiesList.com or the Better Business Bureau;
  • If an uninvited contractor shows up and offers or pressures to make an inspection or just “take a look around”, refuse and contact the police;
  • If using a contractor for large remodels or construction jobs, require that he obtain mechanic’s lien waivers from any subcontractors or suppliers;
  • Get bids from at least three contractors if the job is in excess of $500;
  • Settle for nothing less than a signed contract from any contractor, describing when the job will be started and completed, and especially the quality and types of materials. Include a partial payment schedule in the contract, with certain benchmarks to be met before payment is made.

 

Grandparent Scam

A grandparent gets a call or e-mail from someone claiming to be a grandchild in trouble abroad. For instance, the scammer may claim “I’ve been arrested in Mexico, and I need money wired quickly to pay my bail. And oh by the way, don’t tell my mom or dad because they’ll only get upset!” The call is fraudulent impersonation, the name of the grandchild typically obtained from social media postings, and any money wired out of the country is gone forever.  Nearly always the scammer encourages their grandparent to either wire money or put it on a money card of some kind and send it via overnight delivery.

 Romance Scam

The traditional romance scam has the scammer working to build a long distance relationship with an individual, with a long term goal of exploiting that relationship for financial gain.  Once trust is built, then the scammer uses a false crisis to extract money from their victim.

This scam has now moved into the Internet dating sites. The con actively cultivates a romantic relationship which often involves promises of marriage. However, after some time it becomes evident that this Internet “sweetheart” is stuck in his or her home country or a third country, or in a distant city, or in jail; whatever the crisis, he or she is lacking the money to leave and thus unable to be united with the mark. The scam then becomes an advance-fee fraud or a check fraud.

A wide variety of reasons can be offered for the trickster’s lack of cash, but rather than just borrow the money from the victim (advance fee fraud), the con-person normally declares that he has checks which the victim can cash on his behalf and remit the money via a non-reversible transfer service to help facilitate the trip. Of course, the checks are forged or stolen and the con-person never makes the trip: the hapless victim ends up with a large debt and an aching heart. This scam can be seen in the movie Nights of Cabiria.

Inherited Money from Estate of a Wealthy Individual

You receive an email or a letter from a legal firm, informing you that a very wealthy individual has died, and that you have the ability to benefit from their death.  You have the opportunity to claim your share of the estate, simply by providing your bank account number, name of your bank, etc. so that they can transfer millions of dollars into your account.   This is necessary because they need a legal U.S. resident to be able to legally bring this money into the United States. They will allow you to keep a significant portion of these assets for assisting them with this transfer of funds into an American bank. Of course, if someone makes the bad choice to provide their banking and other personal information, they will not only find their own bank account wiped clean, but they run the risk of having their identity stolen.

Duplicate Facebook Page Scam

These hackers very simply create a duplicate but phony Facebook page of an existing individual, and then use that page to scam the friends of the individual who they are pretending to be.  This can be done by creating a phony crisis, such as an emergency health need or family crisis, and asking for money to aid their situation.

This scam can also be used as a launch point to point people towards Ponzi Schemes, phony websites or to invite people to click a hyperlink to send the mark to an important website, only to have their identity stolen with keystroke copying software or other spyware.

Debt or Tax Collectors Scam

Many seniors have fallen victim the phony debt collector.  This comes in many forms.  It could be a call about an overdrawn bank account, a past due credit card, or even someone representing the state or federal government claiming that taxes haven’t been paid.  These scammers tend to be very confrontational and intimidating, making strong threats about everything from home foreclosure to jail time.

Work from Home Scam

With the economic troubles in our country many seniors struggle to maintain their standard of living.  In the face of a bad economy, many seniors are looking for part time jobs to make ends meet.  Faced with a very competitive job market, the opportunity to work from their own home is very appealing to seniors.  Scammers seize this opportunity and offer non-existent work from home jobs with ridiculously high incomes.  The senior simply needs to send a “start up” fee, or “registration” fee to receive their work packet, accreditation or whatever lie the scammer can come up with to entice their mark to send them money.

Health Insurance and Prescription Drug Scams

There are several types of health insurance fraud, and many of the schemes target those on Medicare or Medicaid. Bogus tests might be offered at shopping centers or health clubs and then billed to insurance, or prescription drugs ordered over the Internet might not be medication at all–you wind up paying the full amount for nothing more than a placebo.

Do Not Call Scams

The National Do Not Call Registry (U.S.) or the National Do Not Call List (Canada) offer consumers a free way to reduce telemarketing calls. Scammers call anyway, of course, and they’ve even found a way to scam consumers by pretending to be a government official calling to sign you up or confirming your previous participation on the Dot Not call list! In one variation, scammers ask for personal information, such as your name, address and Social Security/Social Insurance number. In another, scammers try to charge a fee to join the registry. Either way, just hang up. These services are free, but sharing personal information with a scammer could cost you a lot.

 Affordable Care Act Scam

Scammers have been successful using the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), as a tool to trick seniors into sharing their most valuable personal information.  These thieves claim to be from the government and claim the victim needs a new insurance or Medicare card because of Obamacare. One small catch, though… before the card can be mailed, the “agent” needs to collect personal information.  They may already have a few pieces of personal information that convinces the victim that the person on the other end of the line is legitimate.  Once they’ve retrieved all the information they want, there is nothing to stop them from opening bank accounts & credit cards in the name of the victim.

Cashier’s Check Scams

This scam happens when the ultimate victim is advertising something for sale on the internet.  A supposed “buyer,” makes contact with the seller about buying the item.   The scammer informs the seller that he needs to make the purchase using a cashier’s check issued from a bank in the United States. The buyer contacts the seller later, and explains that he either will be sending a check for more than the purchase price, or that he mistakenly sent a check for too much money. The seller asks the seller to wire the “balance” back immediately.

Innocently enough, the seller deposits the cashier’s check in their bank account, and quickly sends the “overpayment” to the buyer. Here’s the problem.  Federal banking law in the United States requires the customer’s bank to make those funds available to its customer on the first business day after the funds are deposited.  The seller is then able to withdraw & send the “overpayment” before the check makes its back to the bank that supposedly issued it. Many times that can take as long as 7 to 10 days.

When the bank of origin denies the check (since they never issued it) it will be sent back to the seller’s bank, which will then require reimbursement from the seller.  If the check is ultimately dishonored, the seller becomes obligated to pay the amount due on the check. The bank whose name appears on the counterfeit check has no responsibility to honor it.

So how should one respond if offered payment with a cashier’s check?

  • Call the bank that issued the cashier’s check when you receive it.
  • Never accept a cashier’s check for a larger amount than the purchase price.
  • Verify the following information when talking with the bank that supposedly issued the cashier’s check: amount of check, check number, & the name of the person to whom the check was issued.
  • Never send the goods being sold until the check has cleared the bank it was issued from.
  • Don’t complete the exchange if a buyer gives you a check on the weekend or when banks are closed, and the check cannot be verified right away.
  • Look up the phone number to the issuing bank yourself. Don’t trust any contact information the buyer gives you.

Funeral and Cemetery Fraud

Some funeral homes may try to charge for services that are not required. For instance, purchasing a casket or being embalmed are not requirements for direct cremation, but some funeral homes may try to convince you that they are. Disreputable cemeteries may try to sell plots that are already taken and pocket your pre-paid money before you learn of the deception.

Car Ads

It sounds like a great job!  “Get Paid Just for Driving Around” sounds like the perfect job for a senior.  A company is offering $400 to $500 per week to simply drive your car around with their logo on your car. The company sends the unsuspecting mark a check. The victim then is instructed to deposit in their account and then wire a partial payment to a graphic designer.  The “designer” will create a graphic wrap custom designed to fit the car of the senior. In a week to 10 days, the check bounces & the graphic designer the senior sent a check to has disappeared.  The poor victim is out the money they wired to the designer is gone… for good.

 Telemarketing Scams

Phone calls that promise luxurious vacations, deep discounts on medical supplies, or large prizes are probably scams. These cons are dedicated to getting financial information, such as a credit card number or bank account number. Once they have it, they can steal large amounts of money and claim it was legitimate.

Empty Promises of Cures/ Anti-aging Products

Products that promise cures for serious medical problems might be the most unsavory scams of all. They prey on vulnerability and hope, ensuring something that is simply too good to be true. If a “secret formula” seems the answer to all your problems, it is probably a well-laid scam.

Another take on this scam revolves around pills, shots, creams and other products that either slow or reverse the aging process.  The lure of vanishing wrinkles and revitalized health are sometimes too much of a temptation for the senior to refuse, and before long their bank account is empty, and they’ve simply added more stress, wrinkles and worry lines.

Social Security Rip-off

Seniors may not even see this one coming.  Some thieves have become experts in finding ways to steal the personal information from seniors, including their Social Security number.   Then they contact the contact the Social Security Administration to change the payment routing information to the thieves’ own bank accounts or prepaid debit cards.

Investment Scams

Seniors who have saved well over the years might find their nest egg depleted by investment scams. If high returns are “guaranteed” or you have to pay a fee up-front to obtain information, beware! A hallmark of investment schemes is the “proof” of individuals who have earned great dividends–but as the scheme plays out, those who are snared later wind up losing money…

Because many seniors live on fixed incomes, they often want to increase the value of their estate and ensure they have sufficient funds to meet basic needs. In investment scams, offenders persuade the elderly to invest in precious gems, real estate, annuities, or stocks and bonds by promising unrealistically high rates of return. The investments often consist of fake gemstones, uninhabitable property, or shares in a nonexistent or unprofitable company.

 

Prizes and Sweepstakes

These frauds generally involve informing the victim that he or she could win, or has already won, a “valuable” prize or a lot of money. The victim is required to send in money to cover taxes, shipping, or processing fees. The prize may never be delivered or, if so, is usually costume jewelry or cheap electronic equipment worth less than the money paid to retrieve it.

 Charity Contributions

Playing on some seniors’ desire to help others, offenders solicit donations to nonexistent charities or religious organizations, often using sweepstakes or raffles to do so.

Discount Prescription Card

Scammers call seniors and offer them a membership card to buy prescription drugs at 50 percent off. But there’s a catch: These criminals charge a “nominal $200 “membership fee” to join the discount club, along with seniors’ credit card numbers to debit a small monthly fee. Typically the drugs never show up as promised, or the “medicine” is actually a generic herbal replacement.

 Jury Duty Scam

To make this threat seem real, the caller ID identifies the caller as that of the local sheriff. Victims are told they must pay a fine to avoid arrest. They aggressively confront the senior and accuse them of missing jury duty, and tell them that a warrant has been issued for their arrest.  Fines are in the hundreds, sometimes, thousands of dollars. The payment is requested through Western Union, Green Dot prepaid card, or similar form of untraceable currency exchange.  Many times people who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities are targeted by this scam.

 Credit Card Company Fraud

This scammer often calls late in the evening, pretending to be from the senior’s credit card company. Because the thief has someone obtained the last 4 numbers of the senior’s credit card (through deception or various other means), he gains their trust and belief when he shares those numbers with them. His story is that he is simply checking on a possible fraudulent purchase. When the senior refutes the charge, the caller offers to reverse the charge for them.  To do so, he simply needs the full credit card number, and the three- or four-digit verification code on the back of his or her credit card.

 Loans and Mortgages

Seniors may experience cash flow shortages in the face of needed medical care or home repairs. Predatory lenders may provide loans with exorbitant interest rates, hidden fees, and repayment schedules far exceeding the elderly persons’ means, often at the risk of their home, which has been used as collateral.

Health, Funeral, and Life Insurance

Many seniors are concerned about having the funds to pay for needed medical care or a proper burial, or to bequeath to loved ones upon death. Unscrupulous salespeople take advantage of these concerns by selling the elderly policies that duplicate existing coverage, do not provide the coverage promised, or are altogether bogus.

 Health Remedies

The elderly often have health problems that require treatment. Preying on this vulnerability, offenders market a number of ineffective remedies, promising “miracle cures.” Unfortunately, given this false hope, many seniors delay needed treatment, and their health deteriorates further.

Close Contact I.O.U.

Relatives, neighbors, employees and close friends can easily persuade seniors to loan them money, and will even give them an I.O.U. in writing, even though they have no plans to ever pay them back.  Understand that many seniors are starving for companionship and loan money because they’re lonely and believe the loan will buy the affection and time of others. They worry what the person requesting the loan will do if they refuse. The senior doesn’t want to seem cheap, unfeeling or selfish.  They tell themselves: “I won’t even miss the money… I’m not using it.  It’s not that much, and besides, I know they’ll pay me back.  Make no mistakes, this IS a crime, and if you know this is happening, it should be reported.

 Phony CPR Training

For many seniors, health issues are the top priority on their list.  They look for opportunities to improve their own health, as well as protect the health and welfare of their loved ones.  Unscrupulous scammers will charge participants for phony CPR training classes, promising education about life saving skills and the accompanying certifications for the training.  Instead, what they actually receive is a poor excuse for training, and no valid certifications.

 Identity Theft

Identity theft costs millions of dollars to thousands of citizens and businesses to identity theft.  Identity theft is defined as the unauthorized use of personal identifying and financial information for the purpose of stealing money and good credit.

In a 2003 survey released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the results that nearly 10 million Americans had been victims of identity theft in one year. The cost of these crimes to victims amounted to $5 billion and the cost to businesses exceeded $50 billion.

Phony Law Enforcement Catching Criminal Bank Teller

This is a fairly new scam.  The mark is contacted by someone claiming to be a member of the law enforcement community.  The “law enforcement officer” informed them that they believe an employee at the local bank has been stealing from the bank and customers.  They enlist the aide of the individual, ask them to go to bank, withdraw a large sum of money. The individual is instructed to then hand off the cash to the “law enforcement official”, who will take the money back to their headquarters to verify the amount.  In the end, the mark never hears from the again.

Splitting a Bag of Cash 3 Ways

Individuals are approached by 2 people who are supposedly strangers.  They inform their new found friend that they “found” a bag of cash in the parking lot.  One suggests they turn in it, and the other protests against that idea.  They suggest that each of the three people go to their bank, withdraw $5,000 and place it in the bag.  The money will then be split three ways.  The money is then split three ways, but the scam artists split it in such a way that the mark is cheated out of a substantial portion of their investment.

Engine Trouble

This scam begins with an innocent trip to the grocery store.  As soon as the senior exits their car and enters the store, the scammer goes to work.  He or she approaches the car and finds some way to disable the vehicle, typically by detaching a spark-plug wire. The scammer then sits nearby & waits for the senior to return.  When the car doesn’t start, the con artist poses as a helpful passerby, fixes the car, and then demands a large cash reward.  They are so bold many will demand to ride with the senior to a bank to get the money if they don’t have enough money on them.

 

Credit Card Skimmers

Credit Card Skimmers are electronic devices that are placed on gasoline pumps.  They steal the electronic information from the credit cards of people who use that pump.  These scam artists can actually download this information wirelessly and leave the skimmer in place.   Many gasoline stations use precautionary measures to protect their pumps.  Ask your local station what they do to prevent this kind of scam.

Car Sliders

Watch out for “sliders”, Sliders watch and wait patiently for women to pull up to a gasoline pump.  While the individual is occupied with pumping gas, the driver thief will his car alongside the parked car getting gas, with his passenger side door next to the passenger door of the car getting gasoline.  His accomplice quickly slides out of his seat, slides into the parked car and steals a purse or whatever else is close and has value.  He then slides out of the victim’s car and back into his own car for a quick escape.

Car Hopper Thieves

Car Hoppers make a game out of theft.  They will get a group of people together, and hit a large neighborhood.  The group members are given a set time limit to travel through the neighborhood, opening as many cars as possible, and taking whatever they can find.  Then the group comes back together to compare their stolen goods with those of their friends.

Franchises

A tough economy pushes many seniors to look for ways to supplement their income.  Some times that comes as the respond to the glut of seminars and infomercials that fill the airwaves, promising significant income through a part-time or full time business. The world is full of great business opportunities and legitimate franchises that can help seniors earn an honest living, None of these opportunities are easy or inexpensive, and they all require time, sacrifice and effort, unlike the promises of instant wealth with no effort that many scams promise.  Sadly enough, many seniors will empty their nest egg, only to find out too late that they have fallen prey to wolves in sheep’s clothing.

There is a federal rule that may require specific information about business opportunities be given to potential buyers at least 10 days before any legal commitment or payments are made to a purchase any business opportunity or franchise. If the seller doesn’t offer a disclosure document containing the following information, it should be a warning sign.

Disclosure documents should be requested, and if they still are not offered, the deal should not proceed. It’s called the Franchise and Business Opportunity Rule (16 C.F.R. Part 436), and it is the Federal Trade Commission that it enforces. That information should include:

  • The cost of starting and maintaining the franchise;
  • The names, addresses and telephone numbers of at least 10 previous purchasers living closest to you;
  • Information regarding the background and experience of the business’ key executives;
  • A financial statement of the seller that has been audited;
  • A comprehensive list of the responsibilities the seller and purchaser will have to each other once the purchase is completed.
  • Call toll-free helpline to 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) to verify the explanation with an attorney, a business advisor or the FTC. Even if there is not a legal requirement to provide a disclosure document in this instance, request one for your own information anyway.

The FTC offers some critical tips for consideration in avoiding being scammed with a franchise or business opportunity:

  • Study the disclosure document and proposed contract carefully.
  • Interview current owners in person.
  • Don’t rely on a list of references selected by the company because it may contain shills.
  • Ask owners and operators how the information in the disclosure document matches their experiences with the company.
  • Investigate claims about your potential earnings. Be suspicious of any company that does not show you in writing how it computed its earnings claims.
  • Sellers also must tell you in writing the number and percentage of owners who have done as well as they claim you will.
  • Recognize that once you buy the business, you may be competing with franchise owners or independent business people with more experience than you.
  • Shop around. Compare franchises with other business opportunities. Some companies may offer benefits not available from the first company you considered. The Franchise Opportunities Handbook, published annually by the U.S. Department of Commerce, describes more than 1,400 companies that offer franchises. Contact those that interest you. Request their disclosure documents and compare their offerings.
  • Listen carefully to the sales presentation. Some sales tactics should signal caution. For example, if you are pressured to sign immediately “because prices will go up tomorrow,” or “another buyer wants this deal,” slow down. Be wary if the salesperson makes the job sound too easy. The thought of “easy money” may be appealing, but success generally requires hard work.
  • Get the seller’s promises in writing.

 Consider getting professional advice before you invest. Ask a lawyer, accountant or business advisor to read the disclosure document and proposed contract.

 ONLINE SCAMS

 Fake Antivirus

Computer users unwittingly download and install malware disguised as antivirus software, by following the messages which appear on their screen. The software then pretends to find multiple viruses on the victim’s computer, “removes” a few, and asks for payment in order to take care of the rest. They are then linked to con artists’ websites, professionally designed to make their bogus software appear legitimate, where they must pay a fee to download the “full version” of their “antivirus software”.

Phishing

A modern scam in which the artist communicates with the mark, masquerading as a representative of an official organization with which the mark is doing business, in order to extract personal information which can then be used, for example, to steal money.

In a typical instance, the artist sends the mark an email pretending to be from a company, such as eBay. It is formatted exactly like email from that business, and will ask the mark to “verify” some personal information at the website, to which a link is provided, in order to “reactivate” his blocked account. The website is fake but designed to look exactly like the business’ website. The site contains a form asking for personal information such as credit card numbers, which the mark feels compelled to give or lose all access to the service. When the mark submits the form (without double-checking the website address), the information is sent to the swindler. It can also be used with a random dialer computer or auto-dialer to get Social Security number and birthdays from elderly patients recently released from the hospital. The auto-dialer call states it’s from a reputable hospital or a pharmacy and message explains the need to “update records” to be from the hospital or a pharmacy.

Fake Support Call

Unsuspecting computer owners and users are being targeted by people claiming to be from Windows i.e. Microsoft or from their internet provider and then telling them that their computer/machine is creating errors and they need to correct the faults on their computers, they even get people to go to one site or another to show them so called errors, they are then required to give their credit card details so that they can purchase some form of support then they are asked to allow remote connection so that they can fix the problems. The victim’s computer is then infected with malware or spyware or remote connection software such as Virtualpcsecure. Microsoft has released this response however it seems the scams still continue.

Counterfeit Products

Counterfeiters make a killing off of copied clothing, accessories, music, movies and a variety of tickets.  Consumers should avoid online purchases that don’t have a solid reputation.  Goods without warranties or “use-by dates” also should be viewed as highly suspect.  Simple things like paying attention to spelling, confusing or misleading web addresses could be warning signals that the products offered may not be genuine.

Legitimate online retailers also encrypt their transactions with their customers. If a website does not encrypt its connections, you should probably choose to not transmit your personal information, including credit card numbers over that website.  Look for a padlock icon on your Web browser; if it’s there, then the data is encrypted.  If there’s not a padlock icon, you risk having your information stolen and abused.

Here are some basic tips when purchasing goods over the Internet:

  • Primarily order from companies either you or someone you trust has previously dealt with or that you know to be legitimate.
  • Do not provide any more personal information than is required..
  • Research the cost of shipping and handling fees for any items ordered. Don’t let the seller choose for you, and don’t assume they would pick the least expensive or best option for you.
  • By federal law, sellers must ship items by the date they promise, or, if no delivery date is stated, within thirty 30 days after the order date.
  • Research their website, or ask for the company’s refund policy in writing.
  • Pay with a credit card, NOT with a debit card.
  • Keep a record of your purchase. If ordering online, print out a copy of your order form or any confirmation you receive.

IRS IMPOSTOR PHONE SCAM

Crooks posing as IRS agents call the elderly, and using the last four numbers of the seniors Social Security Number, they seem believable over the phone.  During one phase of this scam, over 20,000 taxpayers were contacted and swindled using this sophisticated scam, paying over $1 million to criminals posing as IRS agents.

The scam works like this… the phony IRS agent confronts the senior through the phone, many times using “spoofing” software to falsely display the 1-800 toll free number to the IRS, giving them even more credibility. During the call, they claim the senior owes a significant amount in back taxes, penalty and interest.  Then they demand immediate payment using either a wire transfer or a pre-paid debit card.  Should the victim argue or disagree with the “agent”, they are threatened with more fines, loss of property or business, even jail time.

Follow up is critical to this scam.  These clever crooks will create web domains that include use of IRS somewhere in the name, and email their victims from these email addresses.  They will include very official sounding titles, badge numbers and even logos copied from the IRS website and pasted into their phony email.

Signs These IRS Agents Might Be Scammers

  1. The first key to spotting this scam is simple.  The IRS first contacts people by mail about unpaid taxes rather than by phone or email.
  2. Next, the IRS doesn’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.
  3. The IRS won’t be offended or disagree if you ask if you can call them back at the official IRS toll free number; scammers will argue and want you to stay on the line with them.  If you think you may owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. Legitimate IRS employees can verify if there really is a payment issue.

If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION BY RELATIVES & CAREGIVERS

Although this was mentioned earlier, it is significant enough to explain further.  Caregivers, friends and relatives operate from a position of trust and relationship with the seniors, unlike strangers who would try to scam them. If ANY person takes, steals, keeps, withholds, or abuses the property, money, credit cards or property for personal gain, then it’s a crime.  There are many ways to do this, but among the most common are:

  • cashing and stealing any pension or social security or retirement checks, without the permission of the senior;
  • taking cash, checks or other valuables;
  • refusing or withholding medical care or other services to keep the seniors money that was supposed to be spent for those purposes;
  • Bullying, coercing or forcing the senior in any way to give up their money, property or resources.
  • gifting or selling property that belongs to the senior, and doing so without their approval;
  • using the debit or credit cards belonging to the senior without their permission;
  • borrowing money or property, and failing to return it;
  • giving away any or all of the senior’s money, even if it is to family members of the senior;

Close friends and family are not beyond using tactics like intimidation, emotional manipulation, deceit, false promises, coercion, blackmail or outright lies.

To increase their chances of succeeding with their scam, they may try to isolate the senior from family, friends and other trusted parties, even to the point of convincing the unsuspecting senior that no one else actually really cares for them.  .

Some caregivers or relatives will take advantage in a variety of other ways.  Those include:

  • Deed or Title Transfer: A senior can be convinced that for “safety” or “tax savings” reasons, it’s in their best interest to transfer ownership of property such as homes, real estate, or cars to the “trusted friend or family member.” These scammers are not beyond using force, intimidation, simply overwhelming the senior with guilt, shame or fear to push them into making the transaction.
  • Joint Bank Accounts: Once the offender has convinced the elderly person that he or she needs help with his or her financial affairs, they convince them to add the offender the bank accounts. This gives the thief the ability to withdraw or transfer funds. Many of these kinds of criminals simply take advantage of the senior’s limited capacity to make a wise or safe financial decision, and push them using fear and coercion.
  •  Living Wills and Trusts: Many seniors worry about expensive probate fees and estate taxes will eat up the estate they wish to leave behind for loved ones. An individual can legally move property and assets into a trust. The challenge to this plan comes if the other individuals with access to the trust are themselves not trustworthy.  A criminal family member or friend may persuade a senior to change their will, making the trickster the primary or sole beneficiary upon the senior’s death.  It can be confusing and frustrating for seniors to figure out who is truly trustworthy, especially if there has been conflict or problems within a family.  Any time there is are legal decisions being made regarding the assets of a senior, there truly is safety in numbers.  Make sure there is a fair balance of family, friends and outside legal help who are aware of the senior’s financial situation before final decisions are made.  There is no guarantee that everyone will be happy with all decisions, but this can limit their exposure to being scammed.
  • Power Of Attorney and Durable Power Of Attorney: A Power of Attorney or Durable POA gives a person the legal authority to manage the elder’s affairs, including their financial affairs, on the elder’s behalf. This can be tremendously helpful to many seniors… unless it’s abused.  Honest people can help seniors make decisions that are in the elderly person’s best interest. Abuse happens when the elder is tricked or pressured to sign the document; and then they make decisions or transactions that benefit themselves, to the detriment of the senior.

SCAMS INVOLVING MEDICARE DRUG PLANS:

REMEMBER THESE KEY WORDS!

  • AUTHENTIC– Stick with sources that have the best reputations, like AARP at http://www.aarp.org/medicarerx and Medicare at http://www.medicare.gov or (800) 633-4227.
  • FREE- You should never, ever, never, never, ever, ever pay a fee to enroll in a Medicare drug plan.
  • PATIENCEThis could be the most important point of all. NEVER allow anyone to pressure you or a loved one to rush their decision regarding Medicare drug plans.
  • PHONEY- Signing up for a drug plan over the phone with someone you’ve never met greatly increases the chance that you will be the victim of a scam.
  • FILE- Do it. Don’t be ashamed, embarrassed or afraid.  If you’ve been scammed regarding a Medicare drug plan, all law enforcement immediately… or sooner.
  • REFUSE- If asked for any of your most important personal information, like your Social Security Number, Medicare ID #, bank accounts or credit card numbers.
  • COMPANYYour friends and family have your best interest at heart, and may see or sense things you wouldn’t. Never meet alone with someone trying to sign you up for a Medicare plan, but instead take someone you trust with you.
  • SHUTClose the door on strange salesmen who come to your house. Although some may be honest and above board, a large number of these modern day “medicine men” are con artists scheming to take advantage of seniors. Seek support from law enforcement if they persist.
  • INTER-NOTIt’s just not safe to purchase plans or make payments on the internet. It’s ok to enroll online as long as it’s a legitimate site.
  • CYNICAL- If salesmen pitch the “it won’t cost you a dime” line, then run the other way. Only in rare circumstances would plans not include the normal deductibles, co-pays and premiums that all insurance plans carry with them.
  • SMELL- Many people who have been victims of a scam later say, “I knew something just seemed ‘off’ about the whole deal.” Learn to trust your gut, and make any plan pass your own “smell” test.

Check with the BBB

AAA will come to your rescue if your car is in trouble.  BBB is the Better Business Bureau, & they can do the same for you if you call them before you sign the dotted line on any Medicare Drug plan.  Check out the name of the company and individual.  You may find information that saves you tons of money.

 POINTERS FOR A FRAUD-FREE VACATION

 Empty Your Billfold:  It’s safer to only take the most essential items with you on vacation- a couple of different credit cards at most, and your driver’s license for identification purposes.  Once you get to your destination, lock one of your credit cards up, either in your hotel room, or a safe deposit alternative that many hotels offer.  NEVER take your Social Security card with you, or your Medicare card either.

Call Your Credit Card Companies: Make a quick phone call to credit card companies for the cards you’ll be taking with you, and inform them about your upcoming travels.  It can not only prevent your card from being used back at home while you’re not there, but it could also prevent your card from being shut off by a well meaning card company.   This happens when credit card companies see numerous purchases outside your normal geographic spending areas, or outside your normal spending habits.  They assume that your credit card activity outside your normal spending locations is fraudulent, leaving you without access to your credit card by shutting  it down in an effort to protect you.  Let them know when, where and how long you’ll be traveling.

Guard Your Personal Credit:  You have the option to freeze your credit if you will be traveling for an extended period of time.  It’s simple enough to unfreeze the credit upon returning from the trip.  It’s very important that after you return that you closely examine your future credit card bills for possible fraudulent charges by dishonest waiters and shop owners who handled your credit card. It’s advisable to run your credit report several months later at www.annualcreditreport.com to make sure no one has opened fraudulent accounts in your man.

SCAM PREVENTION WORKSHEET

The AARP has created a handy checklist to help you discern whether you’re being scammed or not.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s a great tool to use.  Take plenty of notes, and if their answers set off any warning signals, or their failure to give adequate answers becomes obvious, exercise your right to hang up!

  1. Note the date and time of the call… Is the call before 8: a.m. or after 9 p.m.? ___ Yes ___ No

Hang up if the answer is yes.  All organizations that follow federal telemarketing guide­lines must limit their calls to this 13-hour period.

  1. Has the caller fully identified the organization that he/she represents immediately after you answer? ___ Yes ___ No

Ask for, and jot down, the full name, address, and phone number of the person making the call and the organization(s) that the caller represents.

  1. Does the caller work for the organization itself or for a fund-raising firm? ___ Yes ___ No

Hang up if the caller hesitates to provide any of this information.  Organizations that heed federal telemarketing guidelines should immediately identify themselves.

  1. Does the caller represent a charitable organization? ___ Yes ___ No

What is the charitable purpose of the organization?  ____________________________________________________

  1. Is it registered with the state (with the Secretary of State, state Department of Justice or Attorney General)? ___ Yes ___ No

Legitimate businesses will be licensed and verifiable.  If you’re approached by one that is not, send them on their way.

  1. What percentage of its total income does the charity spend on its program? _________________________

Don’t settle for vague descriptions of the organization’s activities that emphasize the problem without explaining what the charity is actually doing about it.  Also, make sure that at least 50% to 60% of your donation will go toward actual charitable work—not fund-raising expenses.

  1. Is the caller offering a product, service or contest of some sort?

___ Yes ___ No

How much does the product or service cost? _______________

  1. Is the sale final or nonrefundable? ___ Yes ___No

Does the caller seek payment prior to delivering the product or services? ____Yes ____ No

Hang up if the caller seeks payment prior to delivery of the product or service – or if the offer does not come with a money-back guarantee.

  1. Does the caller seek cash? ___ Yes ___ No

Hang up immediately if the answer is yes.  Legitimate organizations do not seek cash payments via the phone.

  1. Will the caller send details of the charity or products/service in writing – and there­fore give you time to carefully review the offer?

___ Yes ___ No

Hang up immediately if the answer is no – or if you must act “right away.”  Legitimate organizations will respect your interest in taking time to review offers prior to making a decision.

  1. If you think you have received a SCAM, please forward the ENTIRE email to Identify Theft Resource Center (ITRC) at: itrc@idtheftcenter.org and they will forward it to the FBI for you and let you know if it is a confirmed scam.

To verify a suspected scam, the Identity Theft Resource Center recommends the following steps:

  • Contact the company involved directly, using a customer service number you find in the phone book or that you have used in the past.
  • THINK FIRST – ACT SECOND. The action to take is to verify a contact by the company before responding to the email.  Do not even send a “do not contact me again.”
  • Contact the FBI at ifccfbi.gov or your local State Attorney General’s office.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC HELP or send it via email to: http://spam@uce.gov
  • Remember, URLs that begin with “http” are not secure. Only those that begin “https” are secure sites for sending sensitive information.
  • Avoid scams that appear to use telephone numbers in the S. but are expensive out-of-country numbers. If you’re not sure where a telephone number is located, use this free Area Code Decoder: http://decoder.americom.com/cgi-bin/decoder.cg.

SCAM RISK SURVEY

  • When a family member or friend is in the home, does the senior seem withdrawn, reluctant to talk, depressed or moody?
  • If the senior has a caregiver or home health provider, are they a private hire, not affiliated with a reputable firm?
  • Does the senior have a balanced skepticism of deals that are “too good to be true”, and unrealistic advertising?
  • Is the senior visited less than once per month by family members and friends who they trust?
  • Is the senior visited less than once per month by family members and friends who they trust?
  • Is the senior unaware of where they can seek out help from law enforcement or consumer protection regarding scams?
  • Is the senior receiving their most important financial advice without consulting family or friends who will benefit from it financially?
  • Is the senior shy or hesitant about introducing family and friends to a new business or financial contact?
  • Does the senior have an increasing number of new products or services being provided in their home?
  • Is there a new influential person that has moved into the home or the life of the senior, and there is no logical reason for them to be there?
  • Has the potential scammer shown up in a negative light in a Google search, or with the Better Business Bureau?

To total your points, award 10 points to every question that was answered YES.

TOTAL POINTS  
0- 30 Points Great Shape, not very likely to be scammed.
40- 60 Points Caution, may fall victim to a scam.
70- 100 Points Warning!!! Likely to be scammed soon!

 

 

REMEMBER THESE IMPORTANT FACTS!

  • If there is a new person or company in the picture, then ask about them, and ask for details… ASK FOR LOTS OF DETAILS… You may not ultimately have any choice in whatever decisions are made, but awareness is the best tool available to limit damage from scams.
  •  Entire life savings have been wiped out by “trusted advisors” who have taken charge of a senior’s finances. Always encourage seniors to seek out a 2nd opinion as a way of offering a second set of eyes on a potential investment. 
  • Ask for regular reviews of financial investments, quarterly if possible. This allows you to have a consistent base line, and provides regular accountability.
  • The best way to prevent future scams is to report on those who perpetrate them, and assist in their prosecution any way possible. Encourage anyone who has been scammed to talk to law enforcement, and follow through with prosecution.
  • Remind seniors that it’s empty trust to believe that the government or other business entities have researched and cleared all telemarketing companies, home repair companies or financial planners.
  • Scammers and unscrupulous vendors will only be stopped from doing further damage if they are arrested and punished. For that to happen, victims of these crimes must put aside their shame, guilt or embarrassment and report these to law enforcement and to consumer protection agencies.
  • Resist the temptation to hire workers directly, outside the direction of the company they work for. In some instances this is a breach of contract for the employee or the individual.  Regardless, the senior runs a significant risk since individual workers have no accountability, and may not be covered by necessary insurance.
  • HOLD ON TO YOUR MONEY, TO YOUR SAVINGS, AND TO YOUR RETIREMENT!!! IT’S YOURS!

TEN LAWS OF PROTECTION FOR SENIORS: JUST SAY NO!

Law of Pay to Play

When asked to purchase something for the chance to win, JUST SAY NO!

Law of No Numbers

Your personal info is the key to your financial life.  If someone asks you for your account numbers or SSN over the phone, JUST SAY NO!

Law of Not Now

If challenged or pushed to sign any number of legal or financial documents, while discouraging you from getting a second opinion, JUST SAY NO!

Law of Second Opinions

Always seek the advice and perspective of financial and legal counsel when considering spending, investing or committing large sums of money.  If pushed to press ahead without seeking such counsel, JUST SAY NO!

Law of Face to Face

Absolutely refuse to conduct business over the phone, unless you have gone to a website or your bill/paperwork, and initiated a call to them.  If someone calls you and demands you do business during their call, JUST SAY NO!

Law of License Only

Do not hire home repair contractors, especially those offering to do repairs after a storm, unless they are local and offer you a verifiable copy of their license.  JUST SAY NO!

Law of Pros Know

Secure your financial future by using a reputable elder estate attorney or financial planner.  From anyone else who offers, JUST SAY NO!

Law of Show Me Your Badge

You don’t owe it to anyone to let them into your home.  Demand ID from anyone doing a home inspection.  If they refuse, JUST SAY NO!

Law of No Fear

Don’t be afraid of intimidation or speculation.  If someone uses scare tactics about dangers in your home to get you to commit to repairs, JUST SAY NO!

Law of No Withdrawal

If someone wants you to withdraw large amounts of money for a purchase or any other reason, JUST SAY NO!

C

ONTACT INFORMATION

 National Fraud Information Center

Phone: 1-800-876-7060

This is the best consumer resource for reporting telemarketing fraud and report suspicious activity on the Internet. Individuals may also submit complaints online. This is organization is a partnership of the National Association of Attorneys General and the Federal Trade Commission.

Complaints are taken, and information is entered in the NFIC database and referred to various federal and state regulatory and enforcement agencies: the FBI, Secret Service, U. S. Postal Inspectors, Securities and Exchange Commission, and U. S. Attorneys. Reports of suspected telemarketing or Internet fraud can easily be filed on line at http://www.dora.state.co.us/pls/real/CCTS_oWEB.trans_complaint_form.

 

Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center

CRC-240

Washington, DC 20580

Phone: Toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) or

1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338)

 

Chain Letters

Chain letters used to be much more prevalent than they are today, but they still circulate in a variety of forms even now.  If you know a senior who you feel has fallen victim to a chain letter scam, have them send that information to:

 

United States Postal Inspection Service

Criminal Investigations Service Center

Attn: Mail Fraud

222 S Riverside Plaza     Suite 1250

Chicago, IL 60606-6100

 

There are three criteria for an illegal chain letter:

  • If the letter asks for money; OR
  • If there is an element of misrepresentation; OR
  • If the letter purports that you can expect to receive sums of money.

 

Junk Mail

Mail Preference Service

Direct Marketing Association

1120 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10036

Phone: (212) 768-7277

Fax: (212) 302-6714

Consumers can write to the Mail Preference Service to stop their name from being sold to most large mailing-list companies. This will not remove their name from any lists that already have their name.  Consumers can write to any companies individually to have their name removed from their list.

 

Mail Fraud

U.S. Postal Inspection Service

1745 Stout Street, Suite 900

Denver, CO 80299-3034

Phone: (303) 313-5320

Toll-free: 1-800-372-8347

Fax: (303) 313-5351

 

The U.S. Postal Inspection Division handles complaints covering mail fraud.  Seniors should be leery of any of offers received through the mail that sound too good to be true. Any sweepstakes, lotteries, or contests requiring cash up front are usually scams. A fantastic guide for spotting and protection against mail fraud is available on-line at http://www.usps.com/cpim/ftp/pubs/pub300a_print.htm.

 

Federal Law – CAN-SPAM Act of 2003

Congress passed the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act” (“CAN-SPAM Act”) in 2003. It is designed to deal with spam & junk e-mail messages delivering either a commercial offer or pornographic images. CAN-SPAM Act prohibits transmission of any e-mail that contains false or misleading header (or “from” line) information and prohibits false or misleading “subject” line information.

 

This act also requires a functioning return e-mail address or similar mechanism for allowing the addressee to “opt out” of receiving any further messages from the sender. Senders must comply with any opt out requests within 10 business days. The FTC has primary authority to enforce CAN-SPAM Act, although state attorneys general and Internet Service providers also may enforce its provisions. For more info on spam & junk e-mail can be found at

www.ftc.gov/bcp/menus/consumer/tech/spam.shtm

 

Sources

www.fbi.gov

www.wikipedia.org

www.ncoa.org

www.aarp.org

www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov

www.amac.us

www.usa.gov

www.bbb.org

www.sec.gov

www.consumerfraudreporting.org/

www.epic.org