We all want to protect ourselves from danger. And unfortunate as it is, scam artists may see you as an easy target, knowing full well that older individuals are more likely to fall for their scams. Senior fraud often goes unreported, but it’s estimated that over $40 billion is stolen from America’s seniors every year, and, due to a lack of proper senior citizen fraud protection in place, this figure is increasing. Families and friends are fighting back and providing their loved ones with senior citizen fraud protection tips and tools to combat these elder fraud scam artists.
“If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is” rings true in many instances. Law enforcement agencies often remark on just how difficult it is to bring elder fraud perpetrators to justice – once an investigator has begun looking into the scheme, the scammers are already moving on to another ploy. There’s just no way to catch them all, which means it’s up to you to understand and implement fraud protection tactics and be on the lookout for people who wish to do you, your property, or your savings significant harm.
How can you fight back against potential fraud? Aside from a quick lesson in fraud protection, a handy cheat sheet by all the phones or computers in the home is often the best way to avoid these common elder fraud tricks, which include the following top ten ways to beat the bad guys.
Avoid sending money or providing personal financial information.
Be cautious who you disclose your bank account, credit card, and social security numbers to. Suspicious, but realistic looking checks made out for a considerable amount of money should be a fraud red flag. You should know that if you weren’t expecting a check, it could be a fake. If you have concerns related to this type of fraud that protection comes from asking someone they trust for help. Checks such as these are usually accompanied with directions instructing the recipient to call a phone number. The message tells the caller to send taxes on the money he or she just received through a wire transfer service. The scam, of course, is that once the recipient sends the money, the check bounces.
Do not speak at length with people who are unfamiliar to you.
Decline answering questions of a private matter over the phone, Internet, or at the door. Above all, the key to fraud protection is caution. If a telemarketer who is pushing a product begins asking for too much information, request the name of his or her employer, the address, and a phone number. If a caller asks to speak to the man of the house and there isn’t one, never indicate that you live alone.
Do not sign any documents without reviewing them carefully.
You can often be signed up for something you may not be interested in and begin receiving phone calls that solicit other products. If anything appears suspect, contact your lawyer or a trusted friend immediately. Many elder fraud con artists will pose as door-to-door salesmen and try to sell you something on the spot, introducing multiple new products and a whirl of paperwork that needs to be signed now and paid for to ‘secure’ it. This potential elder fraud ploy is dangerous, because the friendly salesman is no longer some distant threat with no face; he appears to be knowledgeable and trustworthy. One of the most important fraud protection tools available is not to allow anyone into the home they don’t know.
Make sure to verify all claims.
One of the newest elder fraud alerts is related to home construction or improvement, and much like any other industry, scams abound. The best senior citizen fraud protection tip in this instance is to use a well-known contractor in the area. Request references and contact the Better Business Bureau or the National Fraud Information Center if they’re unsure. Create a contract and make sure the work is carried out to the letter; a fly-by-night scheme will probably try to talk down the contract, but if it’s in writing, your loved one ultimately has more recourse. And if the contractor wants the money upfront, move on to the next choice.
Reach out for help before investing or spending considerable amounts of money.
Get help with questions about any investment that involves a significant transfer of money or shares. In many cases, the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) can be a lifesaver; this organization regularly sends out information on the latest elder fraud schemes and offers senior citizen fraud protection tips as well as financial planning assistance and information on consumer rights, all of which can help you judiciously decide on various offers and purchases.
Shred all bills, notices, and personal mail before throwing them away.
Information regarding your financial situation is often retrieved by con artists from discarded mail that is not shredded (also known as ‘dumpster diving’). It’s all too easy for elder fraud scammers to get bank account and credit card numbers from statements as well as details on safe deposit boxes, ATM cards, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, and more. An important senior citizen fraud protection tip is to tear up all mail before throwing it away. Or, better yet, get a paper shredder!
Recognize predatory lending practices.
This senior financial abuse and elder fraud practice, also known as loan fraud, is often perpetrated by mortgage brokers, appraisers, and home contractors looking for a quick buck. Seniors approach these seemingly knowledgeable individuals looking to refinance their homes, but are bombarded by fast-talking scammers who incorporate a must-act clause into the deal. In the end, you’ll walk away with a high-cost loan with exorbitant fees totaling more than 5% of the entire amount. Along with predatory lending and senior citizen fraud protection tips, other tricks include pre-payment penalties, ‘flipping’ (when a loan is refinanced to generate fee income without providing any net tangible benefit to the borrower), mandatory arbitration, and other unnecessary additions. Don’t make this decision alone; become a more informed consumer.
Avoid health insurance scams by identifying the red flags.
Many lower income seniors rely on their Medicare health insurance, which is why many elder fraud scams originate here. Often, less-than-reputable medical equipment companies target seniors, offering free supplies in return for their Medicare numbers. Remember that your doctor must order and sign for all equipment and products before Medicare will pay for it. Furthermore, never sign blank insurance claim forms, never provide unchecked medical authorization for billing purposes, always review Medicare’s payment terms closely, never give out Medicare numbers to someone they you know, and verify with your physician if you are unsure of a product or equipment that’s been ordered.
Bypass the ‘Sucker List’ altogether.
Many seniors are eager to win something and often enter numerous sweepstakes, sign up for free magazines, or register for contests. Companies with elder fraud scam artists will keep records of these submissions, meaning you could end up on what is called the ‘Sucker List,’ making you that much more of being a target for fraud. This list usually contains not only people who the scammers believe to be a good target, but have already been successfully targeted before.
Just hang up.
Scammers know that senior citizens are more polite, more trusting, and a lot less likely to hang up when the call becomes personal; unfortunately, elder fraud con artists take full advantage of this fact. If you don’t know the caller and questions regarding financial or personal matters come up, then simply hang up on the caller with no questions asked. Hanging up is one of the simplest fraud protection methods.
If you’ve been a victim of elder fraud, please report it to the proper authorities. Falling for a scam is embarrassing to many people, making it one of the most under reported crimes. Their assistance in the matter can help bring con artists to justice and perhaps inspire others to implement better methods of fraud protection.
Another invaluable senior citizen fraud protection tool is helping your loved one sign up for the national ‘do not call’ registry to prevent harassing telemarketer calls. It’s a free service, and you can either call (888) 382-1222 or register online at www.donotcall.gov. Another website that offers helpful senior citizen fraud protection tips of its own, www.fraud.org, helps fight against con artists by posting regular updates and information. Walking through potential elder fraud scenarios is as helpful as checking in regularly to go over financial transactions, bills, and emails as well as posting (in plain sight) the senior citizen fraud protection tips outlined above.
Ultimately, the only way to prevent elder fraud is through education, and this requires you to be firm on the subject, providing an insightful look into the various methods of senior citizen fraud protection. Caution is always the key to protection, and your loved one should be provided with a list of helpful sources to contact for additional information, including the National Consumer League’s Fraud Center, AARP, the Better Business Bureau, and Consumer Action. Above all, make sure you know who are is dealing with in the course of transactions or investments. And, as always, it’s important to remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of ‘cure’.