Scams and Seniors: How to Avoid Swindlers

March 16, 2015

My grandfather has led a very simple life. He worked in the woods for most of his career and lived in a very small town of a little over 2,000 people. Now more than 80 eighty years old and diagnosed with leukemia, he lives in a very modest home that would never give anyone the impression that he had a penny to spare. However, this didn’t stop a group of menacing looking men from scamming him.

Scammers can bring stormy financial times to your loved one.. Picture of cautionary road sign with 'scam alert' written on it. Dark sky.

The knock on his door came on a cold day just after a snow storm. The men said that they were there to shovel his roof. Feeling intimidated and unsure how to respond, my grandfather agreed to let them work. About an hour later the men demanded payment in the amount of $1200. With five strapping and threatening looking men standing on his doorstep, he didn’t dare to refuse to pay them. He did meekly protest that the price was a bit high, but their response was that they had high overhead. They said that for five men, the cost of insurance coverage was enormous. My grandfather reluctantly agreed, and an hour later his check was cashed. The police were called eventually, but there was really very little they could do.

What are some of the more common scams on seniors? How can you help your beloved senior citizen to avoid becoming a victim?

Five Common Scams

In addition to the above contractor scam there a host of other scams aimed at seniors.

  • The grandparent scam. This scam is, sadly, very common. The thief calls and says, “Hi Grandma/Grandpa. Do you know who this is?” When the grandparent offers a name, the scammer  has an instant identity with very little effort. He or she can then claim to need money for one reason or another and ask that it be wired by Western Union or some other means. Scammers may also often beg seniors not to tell Mom or Dad because they don’t want them to know.
  • “Free” medical supplies. In this scam the senior is offered medical supplies that are not covered by medicare, free of charge. These supplies may include such things as medical alert devices. The scammer may then produce a document which needs to be signed to get the equipment and which includes a lot of fine print in which the senior is charged hidden fees.
  • End of life scams. In this scenario seniors are told that their burial plot or other end of life arrangements need to be upgraded in order to meet current laws and regulations.
  • The lottery scam. In this scam, seniors are told that they have won the lottery, but that they just need to pay a small fee to collect their winnings. This may also come in the form of phone calls saying they have won a prize or a vacation. I’ve had this one tried on me and it actually can sound quite official.
  • Scareware. These online pop-ups will inform users that their computers are infected and that they must download a program to remove viruses. Of course, the program costs money.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

It can be very confusing to seniors when things are happening fast and they are being told what to do. Being alert to common scams in your area can help you to prepare and hopefully prevent your loved one from being scammed.

  • Get information. Always encourage your loved one to get as much information as possible before agreeing to anything, and get it in writing. Encourage him or her to show any documents to you so you can help your loved one to make an informed decision.
  • Never give information. Legitimate companies will almost never call you asking for personal information such as your social security number or bank account information. There may be times when it is necessary to convey this information over the phone, but always use caution. If there is some doubt, asking for a phone number at which you can call the person back can be helpful. This information can be compared with the phone number listed on the company’s legitimate website.
  • Never pay for anything that’s supposed to be free. Free things are just that, free. Never pay for anything advertised as free of cost. Always read the fine print.
  • Life Alert. Legitimate companies offering such devices as these can be of great help. If my grandfather had had such a device, perhaps he could have alerted the police silently and today he would be $1200 richer.

Seniors may be reluctant to hand over financial control. Reviewing this information and other sources, such as the FBI page for fraud, may help to protect your loved one from financial disaster.

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