Top Ten Financial Scams Targeting Seniors

Tragedies, ironically, bring out the best in people. After a tragedy, natural or man-made, people rush to donate money and goods to the victims. Sadly, dishonest people take advantage of this generosity by creating fake charities (Note: the Better Business Bureau provides tips on avoiding fraudulent charities). Seniors are frequent targets of charity schemes, and our Panama City elder abuse law firm is working to prevent all forms of financial elder abuse and help victims recover their money.

The National Council on Aging ("NCOA") reports that financial scams targeting seniors are becoming increasingly common and are posed to be "the crime of the 21st century." Perpetrators target seniors, assuming they have accumulated savings and may also own their homes. Scammers call the crimes low-risk and most go unreported (Note: overall, 90% of all cases of elder abuse are perpetrated by a relative). These scams can devastate victims who are unable to recoup their losses. The following are the NCOA's "Top Ten" financial scams targeting seniors:

1. Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud

Scammers pose as insurance or Medicare representatives to get personal information. Others offer a bogus medical service. Offenders then bill Medicare or private insurance, pocketing the money.

2. Counterfeit Prescription

This scam often starts online, with a victim looking to save on prescriptions. Fake pills are sold, posing a danger to both the victim's wallet and their health due to missed pills when a placebo is sold or dangerous ingredients that are in the pills.

3. Funeral & Cemetery Scams

Unscrupulous funeral homes add unnecessary charges to a bill, taking advantage of the client's unfamiliarity with funeral costs. In other cases, scammers comb obituaries or funeral home listings and call a recently widowed senior claiming the deceased owed a debt and extorting money to settle this non-existent debt.

4. Bogus Anti-Aging Products

Scammers capitalize on our love for youthful appearances, selling fake topical products and even bogus (potentially harmful) injectable substances.

5. Telemarketing Schemes

Seniors make twice as many purchases via the telephone than other age groups. This broad category includes fake charities, fraudulent sales, and calls claiming a loved one needs immediate funds following an accident (see Scam #10 for one variation).

6. Internet Fraud

These schemes prey on the fact that seniors may be less experienced when it comes to technology. A victim may unknowingly download a virus or pay for fake, unnecessary software. One example is a pop-up window suggesting the computer needs an urgent fix, a scam that may result in an unneeded purchase and then an actual virus being downloaded. "Phishing" schemes may involve emails purporting to be from an actual company (or even the IRS) that send the user to a bogus (but genuine-looking) website that then asks them to "verify" personal information or pay a bill.

7. Investment Schemes

Made famous by Bernie Madoff's case, scammers target those seeking to safeguard or grow their assets. Another form arises when people need assistance claiming a legal settlement or even and inheritance, and the scammers abuses this access.

8. Homeowner Schemes, including Reverse Mortgages

Since older people may be more likely to own their homes, real estate scammers often focus on seniors. Some fraudsters offer to do a fake reassessment in order to "help" the homeowner avoid a (fake) tax increase. Legitimate reverse mortgages do exist (and are limited to those over age 62), but fraudulent unsecured reverse mortgage schemes are growing and promise money or assets in exchange for the title to a senior's home. The senior signs over the title, but the scammers never deliver the promised consideration.

9. Lottery/Sweepstakes Scams

A caller may inform targets that they have won a prize but must make payments to "unlock" the prize. Victims may receive a prize check, the check eventually bounces while the perpetrator collects the "fee" by depositing the genuine check before the “prize money" check bounces. The schemes claiming to need help transferring a foreign fortune use similar methods.

10. Grandparent Scams

These start with a call, "Hey Grandma, guess who this is?" The caller quickly learns the name of a grandchild. The caller asks for help with an unexpected cost, begging that the senior not tell the grandchild's parent who would be "angry" (and might blow the scheme!). The victim is asked to use Western Union or MoneyGram to send funds, services the scammers know do not always require identification to collect funds.

This list is far from complete, but we hope it helps keep seniors, and people of all ages, safe. We also hope it reminds victims that they are not alone and should not be embarrassed, a reason many cite for not coming forward. When victims stay silent, scammers win. If you or a loved one has been the victim of financial elder abuse in Panama City or the surrounding communities, please call our team for help. Attorney Pittman understands the complex emotions involved in all elder abuse cases and our team promises to help you recover your lost money while always treating you and your family with respect.

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