Scams Targeting Seniors and How to Avoid Them

My grandfather loved getting mail from Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH). Though he occasionally bought a few of the advertised knickknacks in hopes of big sweepstakes win, I’m thankful it never went further.

Unfortunately, many seniors find themselves the targets of scams that are much bigger — and way more financially damaging — than PCH.

According to the National Council on Aging, the top ten scams impacting seniors are as follows: health care/Medicare/health insurance fraud, counterfeit prescription drugs, funeral, and cemetery scams, fraudulent anti-aging products, telemarketing (i.e. fake accident policies or fake charities soliciting funds), internet fraud, investment schemes, homeowner/reverse mortgage scams, sweepstakes and lottery scams, and the grandparent scam (i.e. a phone call from a grandchild asking for money via Western Union).

Here are a few tips for preventing the financial harm that scams can cause:

Tip #1: Ask questions. If a piece of mail seems fishy, an email suspicious, or a call bizarre, then it’s probably not legitimate. Ask questions of the sender/caller to learn more about the nature of their request and the so-called company they’re representing. If it’s a scam, they’re likely to get nervous, hang up quickly or drop online communication once you start investigating further.

Tip #2: Be on your guard. You don’t want to be so cautious that you become paranoid. However, it is important to be vigilant, to be aware of your finances, protective of your identity, and the way your personal information is shared. Unfortunately, many financial abuse scams involving seniors happen at the hands of family members or close friends trusted with highly sensitive personal data. Be sure that the person you choose to manage your family’s finances has been thoroughly vetted and is held accountable by an objective third party or other trusted family member.

Tip #3: Don’t give out sensitive personal information. On the phone, on the internet, in the store: whether it’s your home address or Social Security Number, it’s almost always unnecessary for retailers, vendors, or others to have this information. If someone asks for this data, ask questions (as per tip #1) as to why it’s necessary, and if the answer is vague (as it’s likely to be), cancel your order and walk away from the transaction.

Tip #4: Research their credentials. Along with asking questions, it’s important to dig a little deeper into the experience, track record, and background of the person or business promising great things at a great price. This is especially true in the case of purchasing, renting, or installing mobility equipment. Don’t just go for the cheaper rates. Work with a recommended, experienced professional company or individual to be sure that the equipment is safely and properly installed.

Tip #5: Beef up your online security efforts. If you are active online — even just for a few hours here and there — make sure all your systems are secured. Change your passwords often, backup your important documents, do regular virus checks, enable a spam filter on email, and stay away from spammy sites.