Senior Scams

In this age of technology and the internet, things like “phishing,” identity theft, and website cloning are all ways that your money can be stolen. These, in addition to “traditional” scams like mail or telephone fraud, make seniors increasingly vulnerable to theft. Going over all the different kinds scams that could potentially be used to target people’s assets could easily take up another two or three posts. So, for the purpose of brevity, only a few of the more common ones are covered here, as well as steps to take in the event that you become a victim of one of these scams.

As Viva is a health insurance provider, we’ll go over common types of health insurance scams used to target seniors, first. Medical equipment fraud is one example of a health insurance scam that often targets seniors. Offering free medical equipment, a scammer will take his victim’s insurance information and then charge the insurance company for a “free” product that was neither needed or, often times, delivered. Another example is a services-not-performed fraud in which a service provider will submit fakes bills to insurers for services never rendered.

Beyond the realm of insurance, there are scams that involve deception of a more up close and personal kind. Telemarketing scams, for example, involve the perpetrator calling a senior at his home pretending to offer a service or product for an extremely low price. The perpetrator will insist that there is only a small window of time in which to take advantage of the great price and will ask for the financial information of the person on the phone. Once that information is given over, it will be used to steal money from the victim’s bank account with no services rendered or products purchased.

Even more insidious is the “relative-in-distress” scam. This involves a scammer approaching the home of an elderly person claiming that that he is friends to a relative of the resident and that the relative is in distress and needs money urgently. The scammer will insist on going to the bank, where the victim will withdraw money and hand it over to the scammer in the hopes that the money will help the victim’s distressed relative. Of course the money never does make it to the relative, who wasn’t in distress in the first place.

There are internet scams. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to these attacks because they are often unfamiliar with the internet. A very common type of scam involve emails fraudulently requesting financial or private security information. This is called “phishing,” and these scams can be very sophisticated as the emails can often appear as trustworthy business entities legitimately requesting information.

Finally, another type involves fake websites and it’s called website cloning. Often, those intent on committing fraud will create a website that looks identical to another, trustworthy website, and will place it under a domain that’s a common misspelling of the website the web surfer intended to visit. Unwittingly, the victim will type in their username and password into the fake site, at which point their information will be stolen.

The sheer number and varieties of scams is massive and is only growing in this digital age. No one is ever completely safe, but there are steps you can take to help ensure that you don’t become a victim of a senior scam. Being aware is a good first step; by knowing what scams some people may perpetrate, like the ones covered above, you can be on the lookout. Additionally, keep your security information such as usernames, passwords, and pin numbers secret and make sure to never use the same password for all your online interactions. Never give out your personal information to a source you aren’t familiar with or don’t trust. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Finally, never hesitate to report a crime.

There are many resources for reporting a crime if you are ever the victim of a scam. Depending on the type of scam perpetrated against you, where you should report the crime may differ. For insurance fraud, often a good first step is to contact the insurance company itself. Other resources include the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. A full list can be found here. Internet scams are often reported at the federal level, either to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Justice, or the FBI. Here is a list of resources. Finally, if you have any confusion as to who to turn to in the event of a scam, you can always call your local law enforcement.

Being aware of senior scams is an important first step in preventing them. Reporting these crimes if they do happen is integral to catching the types of people who prey on senior citizens. Below is a list of resources providing information about potential scams, measures you can take to protect yourself, as well as resources available to report crimes.