Sneaky Scams That Intentionally Target Seniors

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You work hard all your life, try to make smart decisions about money, fund your 401K or save money to supplement your pension and Social Security, and are getting ready to enjoy your golden years, only to lose it all when you fall victim to a sneaky scam-artist.

There are more scammers out there than you can shake a stick at and all of them are just dying to get their hands on your hard-earned money. Even if they don’t take all of it, scammers are happy to take any chunk of cold hard cash they can come by.

Don’t fall victim to these low-life predators. Learn how these cheats operate so you can turn the tables on them!

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The IRS Impostor

Many scammers rely on telephones to do their work, others via US mail, and still others do it via email. The IRS impostor uses your telephone. Someone will call you, pretending to be from the IRS. They say that there is a serious error on a previous tax return and that you have failed to follow up on letters sent to you. Of course, you deny receiving any letters. They then tell you that federal marshals are on the way to arrest you unless you pay right now.

Some of these fraudsters ask you to buy gift cards, such as iTunes, and then read the numbers back to them. Other scammers ask for your checking or savings account info and then withdraw the money instantly. The IRS will never ask you for this type of information over the phone and they certainly will not allow you to pay via gift cards! Don’t fall for this scam or be prepared to lose thousands! In short, if the “IRS” calls you, hang up!

The Reverse Mortgage

The worst part about these types of scams is that they prey on those who can least afford it; the elderly living on fixed incomes. Usually, the thief offers a free property assessment, sometimes under the guise of lowering a homeowners property tax ill. The assessment is “free”, but then they follow up by asking for money to lower your tax bill. On top of that, they explain that along with this assessment, they can offer the homeowner a reverse mortgage, convincing people to sign over their homes to these con-artists.

Never trust anyone who offers you something free or asks you to pay a fee after offering you a free product or service. Always get their information and check with the Better Business Bureau or ask a trusted family member. If you aren’t certain about your elderly parents’ ability to make these determinations, you might want to speak to an attorney about taking control of their finances, so they don’t fall victim to these types of scams.

The Medicare Scare

The Feds are in the process of giving out new Medicare cards to all seniors. The new cards will not have your social security number printed on them, which the government hopes will cut down on identity theft and fraud. Scammers are again using the telephone, trying to discover if you have received your new card.

If you haven’t, they ask you to confirm your personal information to ensure that your card reaches you. Commonly, they ask for your birthday, social security number, and home address. This information is typically used for identity fraud.

However, some scammers take this a step further, saying that you have a balance on your account and you can’t receive your new card until you pay. They will then get your checking account info or credit card info and clean out your accounts! These cards are free, and the government will never call you, asking for this type of personal information. Never give out credit card or bank account info to anyone over the phone to avoid being scammed.

The Social Security Drain

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This is another telephone scam where some very official and professional sounding people call you claiming to be from the Social Security Administration. They often say that your social security number or payments have been suspended due to fraud, identity theft, or some other type of criminal activity. They sound very friendly and will even offer to do you a favor by helping you out with this little “problem”

Don’t fall for it! These scammers will often ask for your personal info, ask you to confirm your social security number and the bank account that your payments are being deposited to. With all that info, they can now drain your checking account!

Social Security will never call you, they only notify citizens by mail or via an online account via their website. Don’t be fooled by this con! NEVER give out your personal information over the phone!

The Tech Support Escort

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For those who might know enough about computers to surf the web but don’t know enough about them to realize when something is truly wrong, this is for you. Scammers often use the phone for this one, convincing you that they are from Microsoft or Apple and that they have detected a serious security threat with your computer.

They act like they have your best interests at heart. They send you to a website to “fix” the problem, but in reality, it gives them remote access to your computer, allowing them to steal your passwords, tax information, bank records, you name it.

Neither Microsoft or Apple will call you regarding your computer. If you are having problems, you call them! Security issues are fixed via updates, not by going to websites. You should also not click on any links in emails, no matter how official they look, or download any program from an email. These are often malware sites or viruses.

The Utility Player

No one likes the thought of having a utility shut off, especially just before a long holiday weekend or a brutal cold snap. Scammers like to pick these times to place their devious phone call. They will call and tell you that they are about to shut off your electricity, water, what have you, if you don’t pay right now.

Of course, they won’t listen to your pleas that you paid, and you have a cancelled check or other proof of payment. They will tell you that you will have to bring that to the office later and if a mistake was made, they will refund your money, but they must be paid right now or shut off is imminent! Like other scams, these con-artists either ask you to make a payment by buying gift cards and reading them the numbers or they ask you to give them your checking account info.

Utility companies do not work this way. They will never take a payment via gift cards! Utility companies send several letters at least, warning of a shut off, before action is taken. If you have any doubt, hang up and call the number listed on your utility bill so you aren’t scammed out of your hard-earned cash.

Your Health For Their Wealth

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This scam uses the US mail, email, or sometimes even late-night TV commercials. Fake health products, such as anti-aging creams, cholesterol blockers, herbal “cures” for diabetes, and other outrageous health claims target seniors who want to improve their health.

These products are worthless at best and potentially harmful at worst. Many of these companies put you on an “instant renewal” system, charging your credit card every month for overpriced items that do nothing. When you try to cancel, they agree to do so, but continue to charge you anyway. Also, those claims about a “30-day money back guarantee” are almost always fake. You pay to send the product back, but you still won’t get your refund.

Be aware that there is no “miracle” cure for diabetes or magic cream to stop wrinkles. Do some research online before buying any product online or from a television commercial.

The Silent Robocall

This is perhaps the easiest scam for the thieves. Have you ever picked up your phone with the usual “Hello” and gotten no answer? You can hear someone or something on the other end, but no one talks. So, you say “Hello?” again. Or someone might ask you, “did you say Hello?” and you, of course, reply “Yes”. Then they hang up. What was that all about? How can this be a scam?

These are usually robocalls that are recording your voice. They use it for a wide number of scams, including accepting collect calls using your number as a spoof call. If you have ever had to wait for a third party on the phone for you to say “yes” to agree to buy some product, such as an extended warranty, then you understand how this works. It’s hard to not say something when the phone rings, but if you don’t know the number on the caller ID, simply wait for the other person to talk first and if no one does, hang up.

The Funeral Fraudster

This scam has been around probably as long as funerals have been around! The scam works in one of the following three ways.

Option 1: After reading an obituary, the thief either calls the family or actually has the nerve to attend the funeral. They claim that the deceased owed them money and they offer to “settle” the debt for less than the amount owed out of respect. There is no debt, but you would be surprised how many people pay because they are grieving and aren’t thinking clearly.

Option 2: After reading an obit and finding out when and where the funeral will be, the criminal waits until everyone has left for the funeral to rob the house of the deceased. Avoid leaving the house unattended and don’t list the deceased person’s address in obits or on social media sites.

Option 3: Some unscrupulous funeral homes will try to make the most out of your grief by padding their bill with unnecessary expenses, such as a more expensive casket. Ask someone else to help you make decisions, so you don’t spend more money than necessary or prepay for your funeral in advance.

The Bobby Double

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This is a popular scam that has thieves looking through social media accounts for information. They might notice that grandson Bobby is taking a little vacation to Mexico. They find Bobby’s grandparents info also on social media. The grandparents then get an emergency phone call with a very bad connection from someone claiming to be Bobby.

The story varies at this point; Bobby might be in a Mexican jail and needs money to be bailed out, or maybe he was in a car wreck and needs to pay the hospital bill. Other times Bobby gets mugged and needs money for a return plane ticket. Grandparents are so upset they wire money immediately, only to find out later that Bobby was never in any danger and he didn’t call.

No one wants to leave a loved one in the lurch, but you don’t want to be scammed either. Ask this person something only they would know (what color was your first bicycle?) or you can give out some fake information (did you call Uncle John? When Bobby has no Uncle John) and see if they fall for it, revealing who they really are.

The Grieving Widow

Every con-artist knows that emotions can leave us vulnerable. Widows tend to be especially vulnerable since many times the husband took care of many financial aspects of their lives that the widow knows nothing about. These ruthless crooks look through the obits for elderly widows.

After the funeral, they contact the widow, often in person, claiming to be some bank official or an IRS agent and claim that the deceased owes them money. They might offer to “help” the widow by putting the house in her name only, but really, the widow is signing the house over to them.

Never pay or sign anything while you are grieving. Take the persons information and have a trusted family member help you sort things out. There is nothing that cannot wait a few days, regardless of what these con artists might tell you.

Home Repair Despair

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Like the reverse mortgage scam, some very honest looking men show up in a work truck, offering free services of some kind (gutter cleaning, for example) in order to advertise their business. Once up on the roof, this scam has two scenarios:

Option 1: The “workers” will find that the home needs roof repair or chimney repair and offer to fix it for the cost of parts only. They will ask for the money upfront to buy the material, or ask for half, then they will collect the other half when they finish the work. Once they have your money, they never return.

Option 2: One worker takes you outside to show you damage that he found and spends time writing up an estimate and asking you questions, while the second thief goes inside and takes cash, jewelry, laptops, anything he can carry out the back door. They often leave you with an estimate and an empty house.

Never pay for anything in advance. Take their estimate, if you like, but tell them you must speak to someone else and that you have no cash on hand. Later, you can check them out with the BBB. If someone asks you to go outside, you can either refuse or be certain that you lock the house and can see both men at all times.

The Telephone Drug Thug

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Many seniors take prescription drugs and are often looking for cheaper ways to get their prescriptions in order to save money. Scam artists know this and take advantage of the situation. Most will send emails offering to sell common prescription drugs, such as blood pressure medication, for extremely cheap prices. This scam works by getting your credit card info and never sending you anything.

Never buy medication online unless you know the company. Any company offering to sell you prescription medication without a prescription is probably not legitimate. And the old saying about “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is” applies here.

Drug prices that cost 1/3 of what you would pay in the US is probably a scam. Some pharmacies in other countries, such as those in India, also do not have the same standards as the US. Since you don’t know what is in the pills they might send, you could be risking your life to save a few bucks.

The Uncle Sham

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Ugh. No one wants to be in trouble with Uncle Sam. Which is why some of these government imposters who look and sound so convincing made out with more than $328 million in 2017.

Sometimes the scammers call pretending to be someone from a government office such as the county clerk’s office, saying that you need to pay a fine because you failed to respond to a jury duty summons or some other type of scam. Other’s actually have the nerve to show up at your door claiming to be from the tax assessor’s office and demanding that you pay for some obscure “back taxes” that you owe.

Be aware that no one from any government office will contact you by phone. Social security, Medicare, not even the IRS or county tax collector will call you or even show up at your house without sending you several letters first. Never give money, checks, or credit card info to anyone, just because they claim to be a government official.

The Skimmer Scammer

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Before you put any debit card or credit card into a machine, whether its to pay for gas or get cash from an ATM, take a few seconds to check out the card reader. Known as “skimmers”, thieves place small devices directly over the card reader. These devices record your card info and your code as you punch it in. You will think the machine is out of service, but it’s your bank account that is about to get dinged in a big way.

Gas stations are perhaps the biggest risk. You can avoid this by paying inside. You can also give that reader a little pull or knock it on the side to see if it falls off.

Stand-alone ATMs, like the kind seen in convenience stores, can also use skimmers, but thieves tend to be a bit more creative with these. Cameras are common on ATM’s, so you won’t think anything about seeing one. Unfortunately, this camera isn’t pointed at your face, but at the keyboard.

It will take pics of your card and your PIN to use later. Always conceal your hand as you use your pin and set up alerts with your bank so that you get a text message or email every time your card is used.

Hassan Washington

Hassan Washington

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