Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they're now considered "the crime of the 21st century." Why? Because seniors are thought to have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts.
Financial scams also often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute, so they're considered a "low-risk" crime. However, they're devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position with little time to recoup their losses. It's not just wealthy seniors who are targeted. Low-income older adults are also at risk of financial abuse.
And it's not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes. Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person's own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others. Review our list below, so you can identify a potential scam.
Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, so there is rarely any need for a scam artist to research what private health insurance company older people have in order to scam them out of some money. 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.
Most commonly, counterfeit drug scams operate on the Internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications. This scam is growing in popularity—since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, up from five a year in the 1990s. The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a person's medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm. This scam can be as hard on the body as it is on the wallet.
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. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of funeral services, is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket.
In a society bombarded with images of the young and beautiful, it's not surprising that some older people feel the need to conceal their age in order to participate more fully in social circles and the workplace. After all, 60 is the new 40, right? It is in this spirit that many older Americans seek out new treatments and medications to maintain a youthful appearance, putting them at risk of scammers.
Whether it's fake Botox like the one in Arizona that netted its distributors (who were convicted and jailed in 2006) $1.5 million in barely a year, or completely bogus homeopathic remedies that do absolutely nothing, there is money in the anti-aging business. Botox scams are particularly unsettling, as renegade labs creating versions of the real thing may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin, which is one of the most toxic substances known to science. A bad batch can have health consequences far beyond wrinkles or drooping neck muscles.
Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. While the image of the lonely senior citizen with nobody to talk to may have something to do with this, it is far more likely that older people are more familiar with shopping over the phone, and therefore might not be fully aware of the risk. With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer's name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly. Examples of telemarketing fraud include:
"The Pigeon Drop"
The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a "good faith" payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger.
"The Fake Accident Ploy"
The con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person's child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money.
Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.
While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ubiquitous on the web and email programs. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user's computer to scammers. Their unfamiliarity with the less visible aspects of browsing the web (firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example) make seniors especially susceptible to such traps. One example includes:
A senior receives email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to "update" or "verify" their personal information. A senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund.
Because many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they finish working, a number of investment schemes have been targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years. From pyramid schemes like Bernie Madoff's (which counted a number of senior citizens among its victims) to fables of a Nigerian prince looking for a partner to claim inheritance money to complex financial products that many economists don't even understand, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people.
Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many people above a certain age own their homes, a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value of a certain scam.
A particularly elaborate property tax scam in San Diego saw fraudsters sending personalized letters to different properties apparently on behalf of the County Assessor's Office. The letter, made to look official but displaying only public information, would identify the property's assessed value and offer the homeowner, for a fee of course, to arrange for a reassessment of the property's value and therefore the tax burden associated with it.
Closely related, the reverse mortgage scam has mushroomed in recent years. With legitimate reverse mortgages increasing in frequency more than 1,300% between 1999 and 2008, scammers are taking advantage of this new popularity. As opposed to official refinancing schemes, however, unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when the perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property.
This simple scam is one that many are familiar with, and it 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 is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults' most reliable assets, their hearts. 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.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don't always require identification to collect. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent "please don't tell my parents, they would kill me." While the sums from such a scam are likely to be in the hundreds, the very fact that no research is needed makes this a scam that can be perpetrated over and over at very little cost to the scammer.
Many people think falls are a normal part of aging. The truth is, they're not. Most falls can be prevented, and you have the power to reduce your risk. Exercising, managing your medications, having your vision checked, and making your living environment safer are all steps you can take to prevent a fall.
Every year on the first day of fall, we celebrate National Falls Prevention Awareness Day to bring attention to this growing public health issue. To promote greater awareness and understanding here are 10 common myths, and the reality, about older adult falls:
Reality: Many people think, "It won't happen to me." But the truth is that 1 in 3 older adults, about 12 million, fall every year in the U.S.
Reality: Falling is not a normal part of aging. Strength and balance exercises, managing your medications, having your vision checked and making your living environment safer are all steps you can take to prevent a fall.
Reality: Some people believe that the best way to prevent falls is to stay at home and limit activity. Not true. Performing physical activities will actually help you stay independent, as your strength and range of motion benefit from remaining active. Social activities are also good for your overall health.
Reality: Over half of all falls take place at home. Inspect your home for fall risks. Fix simple but serious hazards such as clutter, throw rugs, and poor lighting. Make simple home modifications, such as adding grab bars in the bathroom, a second handrail on stairs, and non-slip paint on outdoor steps.
Reality: While we do lose muscle as we age, exercise can partially restore strength and flexibility. It's never too late to start an exercise program. Even if you've been a "couch potato" your whole life, becoming active now will benefit you in many ways—including protection from falls.
Reality: Taking any medication may increase your risk of falling. Medications affect people in many different ways and can sometimes make you dizzy or sleepy. Be careful when starting a new medication. Talk to your health care provider about potential side effects or interactions of your medications.
Reality: Vision is another key risk factor for falls. Aging is associated with some forms of vision loss that increase risk of falling and injury. People with vision problems are more than twice as likely to fall as those without visual impairment. Have your eyes checked at least once a year and update your eyeglasses. For those with low vision there are programs and assistive devices that can help. Ask your optometrist for a referral.
Reality: Walking aids are very important in helping many older adults maintain or improve their mobility. However, make sure you use these devices safely. Have a physical therapist fit the walker or cane to you and instruct you in its safe use.
Reality: Fall prevention is a team effort. Bring it up with your doctor, family, and anyone else who is in a position to help. They want to help you maintain your mobility and reduce your risk of falling.
Reality: Let them know about your concerns and offer support to help them maintain the highest degree of independence possible. There are many things you can do, including removing hazards in the home, finding a fall prevention program in the community, or setting up a vision exam.
Every day, con artists and scammers attempt to victimize millions of American consumers. And when they succeed, these crimes can seriously affect the lives of their victims, and their families. March 6th through March 12th is National Consumer Prevention Week. Here are some tips from the United States Postal Service and the Federal Trade Commission that you can use to help protect yourself:
Take an active interest in the financial activities of your aging parents.
If you have received a suspected fraud through the U.S. mail, or if the mail was used in the furtherance of a crime that began on the internet, telephone , or in person, report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Criminal Investigations Service Center, Attn: Mail Fraud, 222 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 1250, Chicago, IL 60606-6100, postalinspectors.uspis.gov, 1-877-876-2455.
Stay tuned to “Sage on Stage", an innovative television program sponsored by the Wayne Senior Center, for an upcoming program with “Consumer Protection Services".
Did you ever wonder why you are not quite as “surefooted" as you were in the past? Hopscotch use to be a “no brainer" right? Remember putting on a pair of slacks while lifting up one leg and then the other? Now you may be wondering why something as simple as standing up after sitting for awhile may throw you off balance, aren't you? I have personally witnessed many bruises and broken bones among the aging. Why? Imbalance!
According to Bonnie J. Monastra, Director of Operations at Ageless Exercise, when one has good balance they walk without a stagger, can rise from a chair without falling and also climb stairs without tripping. Problems with balance are experienced by more people as they age and that is where exercise can help! As we age we lose muscle tone and strength in our quadriceps, hamstrings and core muscles. What can we do about it? Exercise helps to build back some of the strength we once had and also helps to keep bones and muscles strong. This means better balance! For example, increasing your endurance will make it easier for you to walk farther, faster, and uphill. Strengthening your muscles will make you stronger. Improving your balance can help your sense of body control, maintain strong leg muscles and prevent falls. Flexibility helps keep your body limber and flexible. Staying physically active and exercising regularly can even improve mood, relieve depression, and prevent or delay some types of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. So what are we waiting for?
Is it really ok to exercise? Some older adults worry if it is safe to exercise and are reluctant to do so. Some are afraid that exercise will be too difficult or that physical activity will harm them. Others might think they have to join a gym or have special equipment. Studies show that “taking it easy" is actually very risky. Usually when older adults lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn't happen just because they've aged. It's usually because they're not active. Now that makes you think, doesn't it? Exercise is safe for almost everyone. In fact, studies show that people with arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease benefit from regular exercise and physical activity. In some cases, exercise can actually improve some of these conditions. However, if you haven't been active in a long time, it's important to start out at a low level of effort and work your way up slowly. Also, if you are at high risk for any chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes, or if you smoke or are obese, you should check first with your doctor before becoming more physically active.
You might be wondering how much physical activity is recommended? Well, according to The National Institute on Aging, the goal is to achieve at least 30 minutes of exercise everyday, if possible. Try to do all four types of exercises – endurance, balance, flexibility, and strength. As you become more active, you will have more energy. You may also notice that it will be easier to get in or out of a car and that you will sleep better at night. You will also find it easier to do your everyday activities, and you may find that symptoms of an ongoing health problem improve!
Ultimately, the best way to stay physically active is to make it a life-long habit. When it becomes a normal part of your everyday routine, like brushing your teeth, then you will be more likely to stick with it!
Changes in our lives can throw a monkey wrench into our routines.
We all have changes in our lives that require adjustment, especially as we age. Here are some tips from
The National Institute on Aging that will help you stay active when there has been a major change or adjustment
in your life.
Ask a friend to go on walks with you.
If you move to a new community, check out the fitness centers, parks, and recreation associations.
Look for activities that match your interests and abilities.
If you are recovering from hip or back surgery, talk with your doctor about specific exercises you can do safely once you feel better. Start slowly and gradually build up your activities as you become stronger.
If a spouse you are caring for has a long-term illness, ask family members to come over so you can go for a walk.
As Jack Benny once said “Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter".
Life is a balancing act!
© 2010. Wayne Senior Center