Scams to avoid

Basis Safety Rules to Follow

  • If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Never let yourself be rushed into a “deal.” This usually means the person is up to no good. Ask for details in writing and time to review them with a trusted friend, advisor or attorney.
  • Never give out credit card numbers over the phone, in emails or to websites unless you initiated the call or order.
  • Never give out your Social Security number or bank account number over the phone.
  • Only give to charities you know. Check out unfamiliar charities.
  • Obtain several estimates before you have any renovations or work done.
  • As a rule, do not have work done on your home by companies or individuals contacting you and offering deals.
  • Do not pay for work in advance.
  • Check references, telephone numbers and home addresses.
  • Contractors must be licensed by law. Check license numbers.
  • Know to whom you are talking. Verify a situation with another family member before wiring or sending money.
  • You should not have to pay a fee of any sort to claim a legitimate prize.
  • Register with the Do Not Call Registry.
  • Never pay to play in a sweepstakes.
  • Never pay money to claim a prize.
  • Do NOT give out prepaid card (money paks or Green Dot) serial # off the back of the card to someone you do not know.
  • Close the door on pushy solicitors. 
  • Do not carry your Social Security card or Medicare card in your wallet.
  • Keep sensitive documents at home in a locked file cabinet.
  • Use a cross-cutting shredder to destroy sensitive mail and other documents before throwing them away.
  • Opt-out of receiving pre-screened offers based on your credit data.
  • Regularly review your financial and credit records for signs of fraud.

The Crimes

  • Obituary scam - Using obituaries to target recent widows, scammers attempt to collect false debts of the deceased.
  • Magazine subscriptions - Company sends free magazines and convinces a senior he owes money for the subscription.
  • TV shopping trickery - As-Seen-On-T.V. products hide extra fees and charges in the fine print.
  • The IRS - Tax scams persist year-round, threatening people with jail time or prosecution if they don’t pay debts to the Internal Revenue Service.  Given that fake IRS phone calls continue to plague consumers, the IRS itself has repeatedly published a list of things you will not experience with a legitimate IRS representative, including phone calls demanding payment, threatening arrest and asking for specific payment methods like a prepaid debit card. Learn more
  • A payday lender - “Congratulations, you’ve been approved for a payday loan!” This is a variation on the sweepstakes scam and the call from “your credit card company” offering you lower interest rates. A good rule of thumb: If you didn’t apply for a loan, ask for a rate adjustment or enter a sweepstakes, it’s probably a scam.
  • Yourself - If your own phone number ever pops up on your phone screen, don’t answer. It may seem harmless in the moment, but this scam reportedly collects and classifies numbers of people who answer the phone as good numbers to target with other scams. It may be tempting to see who’s on the other end of the line — since it clearly isn’t you — but you may be signing yourself up for many more unwanted phone calls.
  • Helpful nephew scam - Trusted relative visits a senior frequently and asks to borrow money, knowing the request will be forgotten.
  • Grandparent ScamPerpetrator poses as a grandchild of the older adult and requests that he or she load a MoneyPak or wire money to help “the grandchild” get out of a bad situation.  Scammer may call late at night pretending to be a grandchild in need of emergency funds by wire.  Learn more about this scam.
  • Fake accident ploy - Similar to the Grandparent scam, here a perpetrator convinces an older adult that the older adult’s child has been seriously injured or is in jail and needs money for medical treatment or bail.
  • Investment Scams - Salesperson convinces a senior that an unusual asset, like a horse farm, is worth significant investment. Learn more
  • Charitable donations - Unscrupulous charities take advantage of generosity and memory loss to request donations repeatedly. Learn more
  • Grant fraud scam - Perpetrator poses as a representative of a government agency or some other organization with an official sounding name. He or she contacts older adult notifying him or her that they’ve been selected to receive a grant and requests the older adult’s checking account number in order to deposit grant the funds into the account.
  • Sweepstakes - ‘Contest’ claims a senior won a prize and needs to send in money to collect winnings.
  • Theft of income – Most common form of financial exploitation and fraud; is typically between $1,000 - $5,000 per transaction.
  • Theft of assets – Often more extensive and typically involves abuse associated with Powers of Attorney, real estate transactions, identity theft or tax manipulation.  Some forms of exploitation may be considered “scams,” in which a person (or persons) unknown to the adult (a stranger) attempts to trick the victim for financial gain. Vulnerable adults, who may be more trusting, gullible, or less financially sophisticated, are often the preferred targets of scams. Learn more
  • Mystery shopper - Perpetrator enlists older adult to become a “mystery shopper” for them and sends older adult a counterfeit cashier’s check. They are instructed to cash the check, wire a portion back to the perpetrator and keep the remaining amount (appeals to those on a fixed or limited income).
  • Power of Attorney fraud – The perpetrator requests a Limited or Special Power of Attorney, specifying that legal rights are given to manage funds assigned for investment to the perpetrator, a trustee, an attorney, an asset manager, or other title that sounds official and trustworthy. Once the rights are given, the perpetrator uses the funds for personal gain.
  • Sweetheart scam – The perpetrator enters the victim’s life as a romantic interest in order to gain influence and eventual financial control. This type of scam often goes unreported due to the embarrassment and emotional impact on the victim. At times the victim knows they are being duped but they simply don’t want to be alone.
  • Pigeon drop – A victim is approached by a stranger (or strangers) claiming to have found a large sum of money who offers to share it with the victim. However, the fraudster requests “good faith” money and offers to accompany the victim to the bank to withdraw the funds. In return, the victim is given an envelope or bag that contains blank pieces of paper rather than money.Exploitation by a financial institution employee – While institutions go to great lengths to avoid hiring known fraudsters and employ monitoring and access controls to prevent them from unnecessarily accessing customers’ records, some employees may abuse their relationships or use their knowledge of internal processes to steal from their elderly customers.
  • Financial institution examiner impersonation fraud – The victim believes that he or she is assisting authorities to gain evidence leading to the apprehension of a financial institution employee or examiner that is committing a crime. The victim is asked to provide cash to bait the crooked employee. The cash is then seized as evidence by the “authorities” to be returned to the victim after the case.
  • Unsolicited work – Victims are coerced, intimidated or otherwise conned into paying unreasonable amounts for poor quality work for services such as roofing, paving, auto body repair, etc. Often the work is fully paid for, but never started or of such poor quality that the victim must pay legitimate contractors to repair the work. Sometimes the work is only partially completed and the fraudster will insist that more money must be paid for the job to be completed. Often the perpetrator will accompany the victim to the bank to withdraw cash to pay for the substandard or incomplete work.
  • Fake computer repair (tech support) - Perpetrator informs an older adult that his or her computer isn’t working appropriately and convinces the older adult to provide access to his or her computer and passwords, bank account or personal information. Learn more
  • Misappropriation of income or assets – A perpetrator obtains access to a vulnerable adult’s Social Security checks, pension payments, checking or savings account, credit or ATM cards, and withholds portions of checks cashed for themselves.
  • Foreclosure rescue scam – The perpetrator claims to be able to instantly stop foreclosure proceedings on the victim’s real property. The scam often involves the victim deeding the property to the perpetrator who says that the victim will be allowed to rent the property until some predetermined future date when the victim’s credit will have been repaired and the property will be deeded back to the victim without cost. Alternatively, the perpetrator may offer the victim a loan to bridge his or her delinquent payments, perhaps even with cash back. Once the paperwork is reviewed, the victim finds that his or her property was deeded to the perpetrator. A new loan may have been taken out with an inflated property value with cash back to the perpetrator, who is now the property owner. The property very quickly falls back into foreclosure and the victim, now tenant, is evicted. 
  • Reverse mortgage scam – Fraudsters may target senior citizens who have accumulated a sizeable amount of equity in their home. While there is nothing illegal with reverse mortgage products, the process can be complex and homeowners must carefully review all of the terms and conditions (preferably with family members and an attorney) before signing anything.  Unscrupulous estate planners may charge fees for information that is available at no charge from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or “mortgage consultants” may insist that unnecessary renovations must be done to the home in order to qualify for the loan and specify which contractor should be used to make these repairs.
  • Debt relief scams – Senior Americans are using their credit cards more to compensate for decreasing retirement portfolios and increasing medical costs, and financially distressed elders may be susceptible to debt relief scams by unscrupulous companies that promise to repair a bad credit report or renegotiate a debt. Seniors may fall victim to these companies that seek upfront fees for services that are often provided at little or no cost by the government. They may instruct the senior to redirect the payments to them, not the creditor, and either keep the payment entirely or charge exorbitant fees (sometimes 50%) as service charges. These companies often require payment in cash or money order, claiming that this decreases their overhead costs and keeps fees to a minimum, when it’s actually done so the payments cannot be tracked like credit or debit card payments.
  • Telemarketing or charity scams – The victim is persuaded to buy a valueless or nonexistent product, donate to a bogus charity, or invest in a fictitious enterprise. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to this type of fraud because they are often at home during the work day to answer the phone. Social isolation is also a factor where fraudsters prey on lonely seniors anxious for someone to talk to. They devise schemes that require multiple phone calls and development of a trusting relationship. Learn more
  • Fictitious relative – The perpetrator calls the victim pretending to be a relative in distress and in need of cash, and asks that money be wired or transferred either into a financial institution account.
  • Identity theft – Using one or more pieces of the victim’s personal identifying information (including, but not limited to, name, address, driver’s license, date of birth, Social Security number, account information, account login credentials, or family identifiers), a perpetrator establishes or takes over a credit, deposit or other financial account in the victim’s name.  Fraudsters gather victim’s information through various means; however, senior citizens are often susceptible to social engineering techniques that fraudsters use, such as “phishing” to entice victims to supply personal information such as account numbers, login IDs, passwords, and other verifiable information that can then be exploited for fraudulent purposes. Phishing is most often perpetrated through mass emails and spoofed websites, but it can also occur through old fashioned methods such as the phone, fax and mail. Learn more
  • Lottery scan or advance fee fraud “419” frauds. Named after the relevant section of the Nigerian Criminal Code, this fraud is a popular crime with West African organized criminal networks. There are a myriad of schemes and scams – mail, email, fax and telephone promises are designed to entice victims to send money, ostensibly to bribe government officials involved in the illegal conveyance of millions outside the country. Victims are to receive a percentage for their assistance.

    There are many variations of phishing and 419 schemes, but they all have the same goal: to steal the victims’ money or personal and account information. Click here for a list of the most common variations of the 419 scam.

  • Money transfer scams - Often part of an Advance Fraud Scheme, a perpetrator convinces an older adult to send funds via Western Union or other money transfer services, using a number of elaborate schemes.

Relatives and Caregivers

Unlike strangers, relatives, caregivers, and others with fiduciary responsibilities, hold a position of trust and have an ongoing relationship with the vulnerable adult. Financial exploitation occurs when the offender steals, withholds or otherwise misuses the victim’s money or assets for personal profit.  

Perpetrators take advantage of the victim and rationalize their actions in various ways. For example, perpetrators may feel that they are entitled to receiving their inheritance early and do not view their actions as wrong, while others simply take advantage of the victim.  The tactics used by these offenders may include intimidation, deceit, coercion, emotional manipulation, psychological or physical abuse and/or empty promises. The offender may try to isolate the victim from friends, family and other concerned parties who would act in the victim’s best interest. By doing so, the perpetrator prevents others from asking about the person’s well-being or relationship with the offender and prevents the person from consulting with others on important financial decisions. 

Methods can include:

  • Theft of the victim’s money or other cash-equivalent assets (e.g., stocks, bonds, savings bonds, travelers checks), both directly and through establishing joint accounts or signatory authority on existing accounts. Perpetrators may convince the elder to add them to the account as an authorized user without the elder understanding that the perpetrator can withdraw funds without their knowledge.
  • Borrowing money (sometimes repeatedly) with no intent to repay.
  • Cashing or keeping some portion of the person’s pension, Social Security or other income checks without permission.
  • Using the victim’s checks or ATM, debit or credit cards without permission.
  • Transferring title on, or re-encumbering, real property of the vulnerable adult. Financial exploitation utilizing real property is particularly appealing to family members or caregivers who may feel they are “owed” something for their efforts, however meager those efforts may be in reality. For many vulnerable adults, their most significant economic asset may be the equity they have built in their real property over decades of ownership. See also foreclosure rescue scam.
  • Opening or adding their name to banking accounts without the elder’s permission. Often, a fraudster may use the victim’s personal information to open an account online, as opposed to opening an account at a branch location. The fraudster often opts to receive online statements to avoid having statements sent to the victim’s address and elude detection.

Health Insurance Fraud

  • Never sign blank insurance claim forms.
  • Never give blanket permission to a medical provider to bill for services rendered.
  • Ask your medical providers what they will charge and what you will be expected to pay out-of-pocket.
  • Carefully review your insurer’s explanation of the benefits statement. Call your insurer and provider if you have questions.
  • Do not do business with door-to-door or telephone salespeople who tell you that services of medical equipment are free.
  • Give your insurance/Medicare identification only to those who have provided you with medical services.
  • Keep accurate records of all health care appointments.
  • Know if your physician ordered equipment for you

Medicare Scams

  • Protect your Medicare number as you do your credit card numbers and do not allow anyone else to use it.
  • Be wary of salespeople trying to sell you something they claim will be paid for by Medicare.
  • Review your Medicare statements to be sure you have in fact received the services billed.
  • Report suspicious activities to 1-800-MEDICARE.

Telemarketing Scams

  • Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company.
  • Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity.
  • Obtain a salesperson’s name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address, and business license number before you transact business.
  • Always take your time in making a decision.
  • If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies

Home Repair or Contractor Fraud

  • Be an informed consumer. Take the time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Take a friend with you who may offer some perspective to help you make difficult decisions.
  • Carefully read all contracts and purchasing agreements before signing and make certain that all of your requirements have been put in writing.
  • Make sure you understand all contract cancellation and refund terms.
  • As a general rule take control of all of your transactions as a consumer.
  • Do not allow yourself to be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts, or committing funds. These decisions are yours and yours alone.