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How to Protect Seniors From Scams, Fraud, and Identity Theft

Financial exploitation is one of the most pervasive and insidious forms of elder abuse. To prevent it, you need to understand common scams and fraud schemes targeting seniors.

Who is Targeting Seniors?

“Everyone and his puppy,” answers Neal O’Farrell, Executive Director of Identity Theft Council. O’Farrell spoke about the landscape of fraud and his top-level experience, including personal interviews with thieves in prison and in the Witness Protection Program.

You don’t need a big investment to be a cyber crook, he says, but it’s highly effective and profitable. Sophisticated efforts are perpetrated by syndicates around the globe, from small gangs to foreign call centers, to the Mafia and Russian and Albanian organized crime. These aren’t petty criminals, but smart perpetrators who know how to manipulate people on a massive scale. They adapt their methods to changing times and technology.

Current Scams Senior Citizens Should be Aware Of

Senior citizens often navigate their financial responsibilities on their own. The addition of new technology adds a new level of confusion for the elderly, as well. Even if senior citizens learn how to use the internet, they may end up on unsafe websites or answer emails from a scammer. Some of the most common scams repeatedly happen for many years as new senior citizens become available to take the bait. Often, scams to steal money include insurance fraud, burial plans, and fake medical assistance. 

Burial Expenses

Many senior citizens plan their funeral and burial to take the burden off family members. Instead of asking for help, the elderly person may visit the website or funeral home alone. While many funeral homes have legitimate plans in place to help seniors, these businesses still exist to make money. Help your senior family member plan for the funeral by checking the bill for unnecessary charges. The funeral home may add an expensive casket or flowers to the bill to make extra money, for example. A common scam involves selling an expensive casket to consumers that choose cremation. The seller may convince the buyer a certain grade of casket must be used for the cremation process. 

Insurance Fraud

With Medicare coverage, senior citizens should not need extra insurance services. Scammers may research Medicare practices and policies, so they know what to say to the insurance holder. When a senior citizen answers the phone, the person may try to sell extra insurance benefits. These fake benefits may include extra coverage for medical care or prescriptions, for example. The scammer uses these tactics to get personal information from the senior citizen, such as their Medicare identification number, social security number, and credit card number.

Fake Medical Care

Scammers may offer medical services or medications with a mobile “clinic.”  Once the criminal gets Medicaid information, they may file a claim and pocket the money. Fake drugs may also cause illness or dangerous reactions in patients. You can help your parents or grandparents avoid this scam by assisting them in choosing reputable doctors from their Medicare provider list. You can also accompany them to doctor’s appointments and pick up prescriptions at a reputable pharmacy. 

Basic Phone Scams

Senior citizens lived when a lot of business was taken care of over the phone. They may still answer calls from unknown numbers and trust the people that call. Not long ago, people used to make orders from catalogs over the phone. Scammers may call older citizens and ask for their credit card information in exchange for products or services that do not exist. The person on the phone may also advertise a fake charity and solicit a donation. This scam not only takes an initial amount of money but leaves the credit card information in the hands of a criminal. 

Pretending to Be a Relative

Many older people have a soft spot for their family members, especially grandchildren. A scammer may use their kind-hearted nature to get money. This scam usually starts with a phone call where the scammer does not identify themselves. Instead, they ask the older person if they know who is calling. They hope the grandparent thinks one of their grandchildren is on the other end of the line. 

Once the grandparent gives a name, the scammer pretends to be that person and asks for money. The reason for the funds may include help with an emergency or something for school, for example. The elderly person then shares credit card or bank information to ensure their “grandchild” gets what they need. A code word only used by family members may help grandparents identify legitimate callers. Seniors can also utilize a reverse phone lookup service to help counter these phone scams.

New technology makes it easy for scammers to target elderly people. Even young people may have a hard time keeping track of all the new online scams, as new ones appear constantly. Elderly people also tend to answer their phones more often and may landlines without caller ID. Younger friends and relatives can help protect the elderly by talking to them about scams, helping them with errands, and introducing them to safety features, such as reverse phone lookup services. Seniors remain an active part of our community and deserve to feel safe from criminals. 

How to Protect Seniors from Scams?

Many seniors keep their financial affairs private, and for good reason – a majority of financial exploitation is perpetrated not by strangers, but by caretakers and family members who believe they won’t get caught. So, instead of pressuring your loved ones to give you unfettered access to their accounts, consider these other alternatives:

  • Remind seniors about the best practices outlined previously. Even if you feel like a broken record, it bears repeating.
  • Junk mail is not always harmless. A sudden increase in bills, warning notices, or preapproved credit offers are a strong indication that something is going on. If the last time a person applied for a credit card was decades ago, credit bureaus don’t usually reach out to them. But if they have new lines of credit, the bureaus and offers will start actively courting them.
  • Remember that no one wants to admit they’ve been scammed. It is stigmatized, especially for independent people who feel ashamed that they fell prey to a scheme. Be understanding, remind them that crooks are deceptive and savvy, and focus on solutions instead of contributing to feelings of self-deprecation.
  • Play detective. Parents, in particular, may hesitate to tell their adult kids about problems they’re facing in their personal lives. Their other caretakers, friends, neighbors, or healthcare professionals might be able to tell you more.
  • Angle yourself as a third-party viewer of their personal finances. You don’t need to take control over everything or have a joint account – just ask if you can go to the bank with them to overview outgoing payments and help them opt into any fraud alerts and notifications.
  • Help them get on the National Do Not Call Registry to curb incoming unwanted phone calls (this won’t stop all robocalls, but it can help staunch the number of calls from strangers in general).
  • Utilize password managers and cloud backup services to protect sensitive data.
  • Sign up for a service such as Robokiller to block scam calls.