Financial • 6 minute read
Fraud: Top 10 Scams Today
By Kristina James
Published by Ruby
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The Crime of the 21st Century.
Why are older people the target of so many scams?
Simply put it’s because 1) they are thought to be sitting on large amounts of cash and 2) they are presumed to be trusting and more easily tricked. If you add in memory loss or dementia, the risk of being targeted is even greater.
These crimes can be devastating to someone who has spent a lifetime saving for retirement, and yet a lot of fraud cases go unreported because the victim feels ashamed that they fell for a con.
Know what you’re looking for.
“Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t” is a good saying here. If you’re on your guard for potential scams, it’s a lot easier to spot a real-looking letter or email when it pops into your mailbox. Here are 10 types of scams you and your loved one should be looking out for.
This is probably the most common type because people aged 65 and up still answer their phones significantly more than younger generations.
Fake telemarketing schemes have existed for decades. Scammers will use many different guises to try to part a person with their money. Some examples include:
- Fake Charities. This is particularly popular after natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, when millions of dollars were solicited by people pretending to work for relief organizations.
- Fake Accidents. Preying on kindness, the scammer will persuade the victim to wire them money, saying they have a child or other close relative who’s in hospital.
- The “Pigeon Drop”. The victim (“pigeon”) is persuaded to give up a small amount of money in the belief that they’ll get a share of a much larger sum of money.
These crimes are incredibly hard to trace because there has been no face-to-face interaction, and there is no paper trail. To make it even worse, scammers will often share their victims’ names and details with other scammers as “known easy targets”.
The Grandparent Scam is where the caller starts by saying “Hey Grandma/Grandpa, do you know who this is?” When the victim guesses the name of one of their grandchildren, the scammer has an identity without having to provide any details. They then ask for money to get out of a difficult situation – like being late of their rent, or car payment – and usually ask the grandparent not to tell their parents “because they’d kill me”.
A scam that’s been getting talked about online recently is where the scammer claims to be from the Sheriff’s Office and threatens the caller with arrest if they don’t pay a certain amount of money. These calls can get aggressive and can be scary for the victim.
With all these phone scams, remember the S.A.T. method (be Skeptical, be Assertive, Terminate the call), that we covered in our article about protecting your loved one from fraud.
A lot of older people feel unsure on the internet and this can make them easier targets for the kinds of automated scams that are everywhere online.
There are pop-up browsers that make it look like virus scanning software, and persuade you to download either fake anti-virus software or an actual virus that shares your personal information with the scammer.
This also includes “Phishing” emails that look like they come from a real company and asks the victim to “verify” or “update” their information. A current phishing campaign looks like it comes from the IRS and asks to confirm information about a tax refund.
Since every citizen or permanent resident over the age of 65 is eligible for Medicare, this is a scam that needs little personal details to sound legitimate.
Like other types of “phishing”, the scammer poses as a Medicare representative and gets the victim to share their personal information. The scammer will then bill Medicare for bogus treatment that never happened.
5. Prescription drug scams
The high price of many prescription drugs has sent a lot of older people online to seek out lower prices – and put them in the path of scammers. This scam is growing in popularity. Since 2000, the FDA has investigated around 20 cases a year, up from 5 per year in the 1990s.
This scam is dangerous for the body and the wallet, as the victim may purchase the medicine that is either ineffective or, in fact, damaging to their health.
6. Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage scams
Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many people over a certain age own their homes outright – which is a valuable asset to be taken advantage of.
Be aware of mail that looks official, but make hard-to-believe offers. One example has been mail that looks like it’s from a County Assessors Office but offers to re-assess the property value so as to give a tax break – at a cost to the victim. This was used in San Diego and tricked a lot of people before a “red flag” was raised.
There are other reverse mortgage scams that will usually come through the mail. Scammers try to take advantage of those who have recently freed up equity from their homes. Always be aware of WHO is offering you these kinds of deals, and certainly if they seem to be pushing just a little too hard.
These can range from the famous pyramid schemes like Bernie Madoff’s to emails from Nigerian princes. These schemes offer a huge payout for smaller investments. And the bigger the investment, the bigger the promised return.
These have been popular ways to part people with their money for a long time, and there’s always a new one to look out for. Remember – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
8. Funeral and cemetery scams
There are two types of funeral and cemetery fraud that the FBI warns about.
The first is when scammers read obituaries and then call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. The scammer will claim that the deceased had outstanding debts with them, and then try to extort money from the relatives.
The second is where unscrupulous funeral homes will try to “upsell” grieving families by insisting that certain services are necessary – like an expensive casket for a direct cremation – when they are not. This can make a difficult and already expensive process cost large amounts more.
9. Fake Anti-Aging products
If you’re over the age of 40, you can’t watch TV, read a magazine, or go online without seeing ads for an anti-aging product. While some are clinically tested and may actually help hydrate your skin, there are a lot of bogus claims and damaging products.
These range from fake Botox like the one in Arizona that netted its distributors (who were convicted and jailed in 2006) $1.5 million in barely a year, to completely empty “natural” remedies that do absolutely nothing.
Botox scams are particularly scary, as there are labs that create un-tested versions of the real thing, and may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin. This is one of the most toxic substances known to science and a bad batch can have health consequences way beyond your wrinkles or thinning lips.
10. Sweepstakes and lotteries
With this one, the victim is told they have won some money but end up paying more. They’re sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, but told they will be charged a few “taxes and processing fees”. The scammers know they have a few days to withdraw the money from the victim while the check is clearing. When the check bounces the victim has the “prize money” withdrawn from their account as well.
Keeping your loved one safe.
All of these types of fraud can be prevented if we make sure that both we and our loved ones are aware of what’s around. For hints and tips to keep safe from scammers, read our article here.
If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a scam…
Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to talk to someone you trust. You are far from being the first person to go through this, and doing nothing could only make it worse.
There are people who can help: Keep phone numbers and resources you can turn to on hand, including the local police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts), and Adult Protective Services.
For the details for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government-sponsored national resource line, at: 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website at: https://eldercare.acl.gov.
How Ruby Can Help
By connecting your accounts to Ruby you have a clear and simple way to keep an eye on the whole picture of financial activity. Our weekly summary email makes it easy to spot any potential fraud before it gets out of hand. Learn more here!