We all get our share of junk mail: Endless credit card offers, sweepstakes notifications and pleas for good old fashioned cash. Once in a while we might also get a phone call asking us our opinion or for a donation to some worthy cause. Ninety-nine percent of the time the mail goes straight to the recycling bin and the phone call gets an instant hang up. Most of us are pretty adept at separating the wheat from the chaff.
Unfortunately, many of the elderly aren’t as skilled at assessing the daily avalanche of offers and requests. The scammers and scofflaws of the world are keenly aware of this and target seniors with endless ploys to separate them from their money. The statistics from this area are woefully outdated, but extremely disturbing nonetheless. In 2001, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging reported that seniors were losing over $40 billion per year to telemarketing fraud. Additionally, the US Subcommittee on Health and Long Term Care found that even though seniors represent 12% of the population, they represent 30% of all scam victims.
There are many causes for the vulnerability of seniors to scams. Seniors can be lonely and take phone calls from strangers at home; they are often on fixed or limited incomes and susceptible to “get-rich-quick” pitches when money is tight; they tend to be polite and not reflexively hang up the phone when someone asks for money or information; and they are often eager to accept help with things like running errands, taking care of their yard or house and paying bills.
What can be done to keep the predators at bay? Well, I believe the saying goes, “the best defense is a good offense.” And in this case, a good offense means education and awareness. Almost all of us play some role with the elderly, whether it be a lawyer, health care provider, financial advisor or family member. All of us owe a duty to help educate seniors and make them aware that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Seniors also need to understand that in our modern world, giving out personal information can be very dangerous. We should also be telling seniors that it is ok to have a little healthy skepticism, and if they have questions about something, they should “run it up the flagpole” with someone they trust.
We can also tell our elders about some of the most common scams they might run into. There are really only five to ten basic scams, but each of these has a never ending list of variations. We can all help spread the word to watch for these common scams. The following list contains some of the most commonly used senior scams:
Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams
This simple scam capitalizes on the notion that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Here, scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected.
During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces.
The Grandparent Scam
Scammers will place a call to an older person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.
Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.). At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”
Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud
In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
Funeral & Cemetery Scams
The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors. In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.
Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill.
Always prevalent around tax time, sophisticated scammers often pose as IRS agents through phone calls and emails threatening people with bank account seizures and home liens if a large tax bill isn’t paid immediately. The emails and phone calls can appear very legitimate and the scammers are often using stolen personal information to appear legitimate.
The above examples are just a few of the unlimited schemes that can be used to separate seniors from their savings. Although there is no doubt that the scammers will continue with their nefarious ways, if we all take the proactive step of talking to just one senior about being extra cautious when an unknown person asks for personal information or money, we can collectively work to keep the scammers at bay.
As always, we hope you found our newsletter to be informative and enjoyable.
Barry M. Meyers
David M. Neubeck
Elder Law Offices of Barry M. Meyers
DISCLAIMER: The content of this newsletter is: for information purposes only, subject to change by government agencies, should not be relied upon as current, and, does not constitute legal advice. Reading this newsletter does not establish an attorney-client relationship.