Sophisticated scams make it difficult to distinguish between real and fake. Everyone is susceptible to scammers, but seniors who are tech-challenged or in poor health are easier targets.
As technology evolves, we’re able to do more – and do it easier. However, con artists also use improved technology to commit increasingly complex scams, and seniors are especially vulnerable. Unfortunately, the problem will likely intensify as baby boomers age and new scams arise.
Here are three scams that commonly target the elderly:
- Health care scams: Scammers may offer health- or medical-related services that promise a quick or “revolutionary” cure, but desperate seniors typically end up paying for false services that don’t help (or may worsen) their health. Scam websites also promote counterfeit drugs, luring their targets with the prospect of better prices or the convenience of not having to visit their doctor.
- Funeral and cemetery scams: Some scammers read the obituaries and exploit the surviving partner by claiming the deceased has an outstanding debt to settle. Unscrupulous funeral homes may charge for services that were either not provided or not necessary. Grieving, unsuspecting family members may simply pay the bill. In another variation, con artists misrepresent a legitimate funeral home or cemetery and offer discounted (but non-existent) goods and services, tricking the victim into paying for nothing.
- Telemarketing/online scams: Over the phone, scammers take advantage of the elderly by posing as a legitimate company (e.g., bank or utility), a charitable organization, the police or the government. They’ll pressure the senior to provide bank account or credit card information. They may threaten to cut off utilities or arrest them if the senior does not comply. Seniors may also be scammed online via bogus business or charity websites that appear genuine. In addition, computer viruses might be uploaded that allows scammers to access sensitive information and financial data.
Help prevent elder financial abuse
- Educate seniors on financial abuse and explain how common scams work. You may consider “role-playing” and show what a slick scam looks or sounds like. Then you can help the senior prepare an effective response, so they aren’t caught off guard during an actual scam.
- Check-in with seniors to make sure they are okay and not worried or confused by a recent unusual interaction. Maintain open dialogue as they could be embarrassed about being swindled. Create a supportive environment where they feel comfortable discussing potential victimization.
- Ensure your loved one has access to competent, trustworthy professionals, such as their financial advisor, accountant, legal representative, etc. The more people who are watching out for the senior’s best interests, the better!
- Confirm that legal documents like a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney or Living Will include protective clauses to prevent abuse by individuals with trading authority or other forms of financial control. Seniors should also select a trustworthy individual or company as their executor.
- Advise seniors never to divulge credit card, bank account or other personal information unless they, themselves, have initiated contact with reputable individuals. If in doubt, seniors should not act until they’ve consulted a trusted family member or close contact – even if confronted by significant pressure to respond immediately.
- Encourage the use of direct deposit and automated payments to help keep financial transactions protected from theft or other illegal activity, and to ensure money is being moved legitimately. If the senior needs to write down account numbers, passwords or other identifiable information, they should be stored in a secure location that only the senior and designated individuals may access.
If an elderly loved one has been scammed
In the event of financial fraud, promptly call the senior’s financial institution, cancel any related debit or credit cards and reset personal identification numbers. If necessary, report the scam to the police with all available paperwork, screenshots and messages, and continue supporting the senior through this challenging time.