Scams Affecting Seniors

Key Takeaways

  • Seniors are targeted by criminals for their wealth and naturally polite and trusting nature.
  • Protect yourself by knowing what to avoid.
  • Use your advisor and loved ones to help with decisions.

Sam is one of the sharpest 87 year-olds I know.  Several months ago, he was contacted by a cyber-criminal masquerading as a Microsoft tech service employee.  The criminal claimed that Sam’s computer was having problems and the fraudster said he needed to connect directly to Sam’s computer to fix the issues. Fortunately, Sam got suspicious during the call and avoiding giving the scammer access to his computer. No harm was done to Sam’s PC, but he still changed bank account numbers and replaced his computer for good measure. And so began my research on the topic of cybercrime.

Why are seniors so often targeted? First, seniors typically have money and that makes them attractive targets for all types of thieves. Second, many of today’s seniors were raised in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s when politeness and trust were the norm.  It’s not in their nature to be rude or to hang up on someone on the telephone.  Third, as we age, our cognitive abilities and critical thinking skills decline, and we often become more trusting and less alert to suspicious behavior.  This can make it harder to identify criminals at first or to recall details about crimes that have been committed against us. Finally, criminals know that their victims often feel ashamed of being taken advantage of by thieves. The bad guys know that and count on their scams not being reported.

Most common fraud schemes1
Here are nine of the most common fraud schemes today, according to the FBI:

  1. Medical Equipment Fraud – Equipment manufacturers offer “free” products to individuals. Insurers are then charged for products that were not needed and/or may not have been delivered.
  2. Medicare Fraud – a diverse group of scams involving merchandise or services are billed to Medicare but never ordered, needed or delivered by physicians or patients.
  3. Funeral and Cemetery Fraud.
  4. Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products.
  5. Telemarketing Fraud – Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins, healthcare products or inexpensive vacations.
  6. Internet Fraud.
  7. Investment Fraud.
  8. Reverse Mortgage Scams – Reverse mortgages are investment products designed to tap into the equity of your home and to provide a lifetime stream of income payments.  Since the financial crisis, the popularity of reverse mortgages has exploded, creating many opportunities for criminals.
  9. Romance Scams – Lonely and trusting seniors can easily fall prey to scammers who woo the senior and convince him or her to send them money in order to visit them.  Women are particularly vulnerable to this scam suffering 82 percent of the financial losses resulting from romance scams.

9 tips for avoiding fraud

See the FBI website (www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors) for a complete list of tips for fighting fraud.

  1. Never sign blank insurance forms.
  2. Keep accurate records of all healthcare appointments.
  3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  4. Don’t check your e-mail or surf financial sites on public computers. Don’t use public Wi-Fi with your computer or cell phone to conduct sensitive transactions.
  5. Use complex and unique passwords (or a password manager) for your computer and mobile devices.  See my previous post on this topic.
  6. Never respond to unsolicited advertisements by phone, mail or e-mail.
  7. Never give your personal information, credit card number or bank account number to anyone who contacts you directly; only provide it to an institution you trust if you are the one who initiated the contact.
  8. Don’t invest in anything you don’t understand. A good advisor will be happy to take as much time as necessary to explain the opportunity to you fully. That way you can make a well-informed decision.
  9. Don’t feel pressured to make a quick decision about an important financial decision. That can be a telltale sign of a scam. Sleep on important decisions and run them by your advisor. That’s why we are here.

Conclusion

We live in a fast-paced, constantly changing, and highly competitive world. It’s easy to become distracted and make hasty decisions at any age, even more so when age starts to affect your cognitive abilities. Never make important financial or life decisions under duress and always call a trusted advisor is something doesn’t seem right to you or you’re being pressured to make a decision before you’re ready.

Feel free to contact me anytime if you or a close friend or family members suspects they are being scammed.

 

Footnotes

1 Source:  The Federal Bureau of Investigation

About Mark Rioboli

Mark A. Rioboli, CFP®, CFS is Director of Wealth Management for Independence Advisors, bringing over 25 years of experience in the wealth management industry. Have a question for Mark? CLICK HERE TO ASK MARK

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