Scams have been around as long as humans have had goods and currency to trade. From literal snake-oil salesmen on the American frontier, to worldwide Ponzi schemes, a few bad people will always be willing to try to get something for nothing. Scams have evolved through history as our way of life has changed, and in 2015 criminals employ a mix of new and old methods.
Why target seniors? Scammers believe seniors have large amounts of savings and few expenses, and often a paid-off home. They are also seen as polite, friendly, and generous to strangers – good attributes that scammers can exploit for nefarious purposes. Scams against seniors also often go unreported as the victims are confused by what actually happened, or too embarrassed to admit their mistake, and the scammers get away.
The good news is that it is relatively easy to stay safe from fraud, both in the real world and online. We asked two experts for their tips on preventing and dealing with scams that target seniors.
Different Types of Deception
From requesting prepayment on a product that does not exist, to impersonating a family member in trouble, scammers are nothing if not inventive. Within the ever-changing world of fraud, what types of scams do seniors in particular need to be on the lookout for?
Eva Velasquez is the President/CEO at the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization helping victims of identity theft. She knows both the business world, and the laws that govern them, via having served as the Vice President of Operations for the San Diego Better Business Bureau, and worked for 21 years at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. She has seen several unique scams that target seniors.
Seniors are targeted by every type of scam, just as any other age group. However, seniors are particularly targeted for phone scams and, increasingly, internet scams. Phone scams targeted at seniors include fake reverse mortgages, life insurance scams, lottery scams and more.
One scam that targets this specific population is the “Grandparent Scam” in which scammers call or email claiming to be the individual’s grandchildren and claim they are stranded somewhere and need money wire transferred to them.
Marissa Buckley is the Vice President of marketing at Security First Insurance, the third largest homeowners insurance provider in Florida. She shares both the old fashioned and the high tech means by which she has seen seniors exploited by criminals.
A good way for seniors to look at scams that are targeted towards them is to think about the physical and digital activity that is the most common among individuals and on a fairly regular basis.
From a physical standpoint [as opposed to virtual], identity thieves use mail and garbage to find inroads to personal information and even service providers who come into your home can steal information. Everyone receives mail and takes out the trash and thieves know what type of mail to look out for to swipe pre-approved credit card offers and mail that might contain personal information.
Then, there are the digital and phone scams where hackers send highly personalized emails with fake offers and call with sweepstakes offers to collect personal information over the phone.
How to Stop Scammers in the Physical World
Though a lot of scammers are now online, leaving the wrong paper trail still puts you in danger. Here are Marissa Buckley’s tips for keeping your identifying documents and information secure.
The best way to avoid mail scams is to stop certain types of mail from being sent. Enrolling in paperless programs can help to eliminate the paper trail and actually makes it easier to receive invoices and other financial offers online. Seniors should also make sure to check their mail regularly and as close as possible to when the mail is delivered so it’s harder for thieves to drive by and rifle through the different letters.
Also, investing in a shredder is very important. This way, the unwanted mail for pre-approved credit cards and other offers aren’t just left in the trash for someone else to easily fill out. Ripping these things up by hand isn’t sufficient. Thieves will spend hours splicing the information together because it can mean a big bonus for them. It’s also important for seniors to purchase a cross-cut shredder. Some shredders will simply cut in strips making it very easy for thieves to piece together the information.
When a service provider is scheduled to be in the home make sure all paper documents are out of sight and in a lock box. Also be sure to follow the service provider around to ensure the work is properly done and there is no unwarranted behavior.
For telephone scams, seniors should never share personally identifiable information over the phone with a caller they do not know. If you are uncertain about the caller, tell them for safety purposes, you’d like to call them back and ask for their number. Look the number up online to see what comes up in search results. If the number is legitimate, it should be associated with the individual who called or the organization’s name.
How to Stop Scammers in the Virtual World
Internet scams are are in the news almost constantly, from privacy breaches due to hackers or homes being listed for rent that don’t even exist. Many people are still afraid to shop online or use certain websites due to concerns about security. Velasquez shares her advice for using the web safely.
If they are shopping online they can easily see if a site is secure by looking for a web address that starts with https rather than just http. They can also look for a little picture of a lock just to the left of the URL bar. If they are concerned about a site, it is always a good idea to type the name of the site with the word scam after it into google and see what comes up.
The best way for seniors to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a scam is to stay educated on the latest scams. They can sign up for scam updates to be sent to them via email or follow a scam alert page on Facebook. Another great tip on avoiding scams is actually to make sure that their computer has complete anti-virus that is installed and up to date.
If You Have Been A Victim, What Next?
Reporting crimes or even scamming attempts is the first step toward stopping them. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you are a victim! Reporting what happened to you may save others from suffering the same fate. Velasquez offers two places where you can submit complaints.
You should report Internet scams to the Internet Crime Complaint Center or IC3 . They can also submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. If they have had their identity stolen or suffered some type of financial loss, they should file a police report with their local police.
Buckley agrees that scams or scam attempts must be reported, and may even be covered by your insurance.
Report any fraud schemes to the authorities. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and your local law enforcement agency. If you have identify theft coverage, which is highly recommended, then call your provider to let them know. If your finances could be affected, contact the financial institutions that you use to let them know of the activity.
Doing Your Part To Stay Safe and Stop Scammers
Scammers are always looking for a new way to separate you from your money, and seniors are particularly vulnerable due to having fewer income sources and less time to recover from a significant loss. Staying safe from modern “snake oil” is possible, if you are willing to invest effort into staying educated, protecting your physical and digital information, and reporting suspicious activity.
Unfortunately, the reverse mortgage industry has it’s share of scams and received some bad press as a result. Here at Premier Reverse Mortgage we are committed to fully honest and integrious service. Know that we will never abide any remotely questionable practices. We perform our services by the book and we adhere to all regulations and guidelines.