Stay Alert To Senior Scams
Isolation, reduced cognition, and having access to major funds or credit are all reasons scam artists view the elderly as easy prey.
But just because older people are targets doesn't mean they have to be victims. With awareness of the most common scams and a strategy in place for dealing with scammers, you or an elderly loved one cannot only avoid getting ripped off, you can actually help law enforcement shut down these sordid operations.
The Most Common Scams
Senior scams play on the biggest fears and concerns of the elderly: their health, their finances, their home and the well-being of their families. Scammers enter people’s lives by mail, by email and in person with an unsolicited knock on the door. Often, they look official, they seem trustworthy and their offer seems like a good idea – maybe even too good to be true.
A few of the more common scams are:
- Sweepstake scams: They call or send a flyer saying you have won something. All you need to do is send a check or give your credit card or bank account number to retrieve your prize.
- Medicare scams: Someone calls saying they are from Medicare and asks for confidential, personal information, such as a Social Security number.
- Update-your-account scam: An email that looks like it is from a company you actually do business with pops into your inbox and asks you to update your account information, including a credit card or bank account number.
- Home repair scams: Unsolicited, someone knocks on your door saying they can fix an issue with your home or grounds at a good price.
- Charity scams: Someone calls and asks you to donate to a fake charity with a very real sounding name, or someone calls and says you already made a pledge and they are now collecting on it — again, asking for cash, a check or your credit card number.
- Grandparent scam: Someone calls and says “Hi, Grandma, it’s me” – not giving a name. The elderly person says, “Oh, hi (name)." Then the caller assumes the grandchild’s identity and asks for money.
In addition, there are funeral and cemetery scams, discount drug scams, investment scams, reverse mortgage scams — the list is long and new scams are created every day. The thing they all have in common is asking for money directly or asking for personal information they can use to steal your identity and get your money.
So How Can You Avoid Being Scammed?
Be aware that everyone is susceptible; no one is immune. Thus, have your guard up no matter how “sharp” you think you or an elderly loved one is and no matter how legitimate something seems. To stay safe, you and anyone you think could be at risk should embrace the following guidelines:
- Do not give any credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or Social Security numbers over the phone or email ever.
- Do not answer the phone if you don’t recognize the caller, and never answer the door for a person you don’t know.
- Should you find yourself on the phone with a stranger, have a strategy for getting off the phone. Some people feel just hanging up is “rude.” If that’s the case for you or a loved one, have a strategy around that and use it.
- Get an unlisted phone number. Your phone service provider will be glad to help you with this.
- Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222.
- Make it your strict policy to talk over any financial, charity or spending decisions with a trusted family member or friend before giving out information or money.
- Never click a link in an email to access or set up an account with a business. Always enter your account through business’s main website via your own browser.
- Check your credit report annually at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.
- Consider putting a “security freeze” on your credit report. Find out more by visiting www.ncdoj.gov and then clicking “Consumer,” then “Credit & Debt” and then “Freeze Your Credit”.
- Shred mail and documents before throwing away.
Report Scams to Local Police
If you receive what you believe to be a scam phone call, email or mailing, or if you believe a scam artist has knocked on your door, report it to your local police. If you realize you have been a victim of a scam, do not be embarrassed. These scammers are professionals and are very good at what they do. Turn your misfortune into a positive for your community and report the scam to your local police. Your action will protect others.
For information on scams in North Carolina, call 877-5-NO-SCAM.