Avoiding Financial Crimes Targeting the Elderly
Some 16.7 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud, according to latest report from Javelin Strategy & Research. That’s up 8 percent from the previous year. In all, thieves stole over $16.8 billion.
Why are the Elderly targets?
According to the FBI, senior citizens especially should be aware of fraud schemes for the following reasons:
- Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” and own their home. Many have excellent credit. These things make them attractive to con artists.
- People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
- Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
- When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory. They are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks or more likely, months after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
- Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.
Telemarketing Fraud targeting Seniors
If you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations.
When you send money to people you do not know personally or give personal or financial information to unknown callers, you increase your chances of becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud.
Here are some warning signs of telemarketing fraud. This is what a caller may tell you:
- “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
- “You’ve won a ‘free’ gift, vacation, or prize.” But you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
- “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
- “There is no need to check out the company with anyone.” The callers say you do not need to speak to anyone including your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.
- “You don’t need any written information about the company or their references.”
- “Don’t miss out as you can’t afford to miss this ‘high-profit, no-risk’ offer.”
If you hear these or similar “lines” from a telephone salesperson, just say “no thank you” and hang up the telephone.
Millions of older adults fall prey to financial scams every year. Use these tips from NCOA and the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement to protect yourself or an older adult you know.
8 tips to protect yourself
- Be aware that you are at risk from strangers.
- Don’t isolate yourself—stay involved!
- Always tell solicitors: “I never buy from (or give to) anyone who calls or visits me unannounced. Send me something in writing.”
- Shred all receipts with your credit card number
- Sign up for the “Do Not Call” list and take yourself off multiple mailing lists
- Use direct deposit for benefit checks to prevent checks from being stolen from the mailbox
- Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call
- Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers and thoroughly do your research
Be an informed consumer. Take the time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Take a friend with you who may offer some perspective to help you make difficult decisions.
Also, carefully read all contracts and purchasing agreements before signing. Also, make certain that all of your requirements have been put in writing. Understand all contract cancellation and refund terms. As a general rule governing all of your interactions as a consumer, do not allow yourself to be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts, or committing funds. These decisions are yours and yours alone.
Steps to take if you’re a victim of a scam
If you think you’ve been scammed, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it—waiting could only make it worse. Immediately:
- Call your bank and/or credit card company.
- Cancel any debit or credit cards linked to the stolen account.
- Reset your personal identification number(s).
Also, contact legal services and Texas Abuse Hotline of Family and Protective Services at (800) 252-5400.