Frauds and scams targeted at seniors, both online and offline, abound. Why are seniors, aging Baby Boomers, and the elderly so much at risk?
There is a wealth of information available about this topic, warning consumers to be diligent and what to do if they think they may be a victim. The FBI’s website is a good source to start with, as it summarizes the best information we have. Here’s some of the most important points:
- These age groups are most likely to own their own home, have savings and investments, and good credit. Fraudsters like these traits. According to the FBI, “If you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone.” Also, once you are successfully targeted, scammers often sell your contact information for use by other fraudsters.
- Older generations were generally raised by their parents to be polite and trusting of others. Scammers exploit these traits, understanding that it is hard for these people to just say “no” or hang up the phone. (Speaking of phone calls, see the latest phone scamming trick discussed below.)
- Seniors are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. They have the time and interest to respond to solicitations. According to the FBI, “In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.”
- The lure of a bargain or a free giveaway is often too much for seniors to resist. Telemarketing scams often offer of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and bargain travel plans. This makes these age groups easy targets.
- The aging and the elderly are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to tell, are ashamed, or do not even realize they’ve been victimized.
- Elderly may not even tell their family, let alone the authorities, that they’ve been victimized because they are afraid they will be seen as having lost the mental capacity to take care of their own affairs. They are afraid their family or the legal system will try to take away their independence.
- Con artists understand that, even if they are caught, there is a good chance they will not be prosecuted or convicted. This is because the elderly often make poor witnesses. They may be forgetful and often not observant of details. Or they may be cognitively impaired.The perpetrators count on victims being unable to supply enough detailed information to investigators to effectively pursue a complaint. In addition, it may take weeks or months for a victim to realize he or she has been swindled. This makes it even less likely the victim can remember the important details of the events.
Tip-Offs for Telemarketing Fraud. Sending money to people you do not know personally or giving personal or financial information to unknown callers increase your chances of becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud. Even answering the phone and responding to questions can be risky. Beware of these tactics on the phone:
- You answer a call and the caller says, “Can you hear me?” This question is aimed at getting you to say “yes”. Or the scammers may use phrases such as,” “Are you the lady of the house?”; “Do you pay the household telephone bills?”, or “Are you the homeowner?” The fraudster records your answer and then uses it as a way to authorize fraudulent charges on a credit card account or other accounts. They use the recorded response to say that you have agreed to something. They may even play back your response to intimidate you or threaten legal action. The best strategy is to just hang up to a call from a phone number you are not familiar with, if you are asked questions like this. Better yet, do not answer the call at all. Let it go to voice mail. You can listen to the message and return the call if it is legitimate. If not, block the caller from your phone.
- “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
- The caller says you’ve won a free gift, vacation, or prize. But you must pay for postage or handling charges to claim your prize.” Or you must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier in order to claim a prize or gift.
- The caller says that you cannot afford to miss this high profit, no risk, or limited time offer.
- The caller tries to discourage you from checking out the company, or talking to someone else first such as your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.
- You request references and the caller refuses or deflects the question by changing the subject.
If you hear these or similar “lines” from a telephone caller, just hang up the telephone, and do not worry about being impolite.