It’s estimated that senior citizens are robbed of nearly $3 billion a year in financial scams. This crime is often considered “the crime of the 21st Century.” So we’d like to shed light on this horrible fraud that is affecting an estimated 10,000 seniors a day.
Why do scammers target seniors?
According to the FBI, there are a few reasons:
- Most seniors have a cushy “nest egg” they’ve saved for retirement. They are also most likely to own their home and have excellent credit.
- People who grew up in the 1930s–1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Scammers exploit these traits — they know it can be difficult for this generation to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
- Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud. They don’t know how to report it, are too ashamed at being scammed, or they don’t know that they’ve been scammed.
These crimes are devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position both emotionally and financially with little time to recoup their losses. Here are two popular scams that specifically target seniors, and how you can combat them:
The Grandparent Scam (also known as the Emergency Scam)
A senior will receive a call from someone who addresses them as “Grandma” or “Grandpa,” and they’ll say they need money immediately because of an extreme circumstance. Occasionally, the scammer will know personal information about their grandchild like their name, the name of their siblings, and their city of residence. Other times, they don’t know much information about the grandkids and will refer to him or herself as “your favorite grandchild.”
The reason they need money can differ. Maybe they were in an accident and need money to pay for the medical bills. In that common scenario, the scammers will hand the phone to a “doctor” who will confirm the medical bill. Sometimes scammers will act like they’ve just been arrested and need bail money. Like the former example, they’ll hand the phone to a “sheriff” or “lawyer” who will confirm the urgent need for cash. During these scamming phone calls, keep this in mind: the scammer will always have a desperate need for money. They will be willing to do whatever it takes to gain your personal information.
How to Protect Yourself
The Grandparent Scam is a pretty scary phone call to receive. It plays on your fear and emotions so you often overlook any doubt about the situation. Beware that this scam is going around and call your family if you ever receive a call from one of your grandchildren saying they are in need of some emergency situation.
Decide on a personal question you could ask your grandchild on the phone that could catch a scammer in the act. You could ask about their favorite baseball team, current address, favorite color, or pet’s name. Be sure to choose something that only family members know.
Medicare, Social Security, and Health Insurance Scams
These scams are common because every U.S. citizen over 65 years old qualifies for Medicare. Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries will receive calls from scam operators who claim to represent Medicare, Social Security or an insurance company. They claim that new Medicare, Social Security or supplemental insurance benefits cards are being issued or that the senior’s file must be updated. Then the scammer asks the citizen to verify by providing their personal banking information, which will be used to commit theft.
The callers are often extremely aggressive and will call constantly to wear down the potential victim. They will say anything to gain a person’s trust. In some cases, they may have already obtained limited personal information such as a name, address or even Social Security number.
How to Protect Yourself
Know this: the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration will not call you to update information or issue a new card. If you have disclosed personal information to an unknown party, you could be at risk of identity theft. Call one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and place a fraud alert on your credit report. This makes it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. With a fraud alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit and use the contact information from the credit reporting companies. You can also place a freeze on your credit reports, which requires written authorization before releasing any information from your credit report.
Other ways to prevent yourself from becoming a victim, according to the AARP:
- Put your address on opt-out lists with the Direct Marketing Association. Once done, national vendors won’t send junk mail and you will know that what arrives is likely from scammers. If you do receive a postal scam, report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by clicking here or calling 1-877-876-2455 (press option 4).
- Check your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com to ensure that fraudulent new accounts haven’t been opened in your name.
- If you need assistance, AARP Foundation volunteers can help. You can call the AARP Fraud Watch Network helpline at 1-877-908-3360 toll-free. The volunteers at AARP can talk to you about possible scams and may be able to help you report a crime.
Grandparents Scam: http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2016/how-to-beat-grandparent-scam.html
Medicare Scams: https://www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/publications/medicaressscams.asp