Seniors are often targeted by scammers for reasons ranging from availability to prosperity to isolation. Retirees are more likely to have the time to entertain calls, resources to spend and propensity to entertain conversations with strangers, especially if they are lonely or isolated from their families. Sickness can also be a factor, since the difficulty in handling property may arise, leading seniors to trust and pay people excessively for managing their assets on their behalf.
Con artists have different ways of getting in touch with seniors. Some ways they contact their victims are through:
- Phone calls: The Federal Trade Commission reports that fraudulent telemarketers direct 56–80% of their calls to seniors. Scammers often ask for personal information such as full name, birthdate and important numbers like credit cards, bank accounts and Social Security.
- Mail: Unlike younger adults, most seniors are retired and may stay at home, thus giving them the time to go through all their mail. Sweepstakes letters and fake charities often use the Postal Service to ask for seniors' personal information or send checks to "claim a prize" that end up costing the victims.
- Online: Although only a small fraction of seniors are on the Internet, scammers are still able to gather important information from their personal computers when seniors fail to use security protection. Scammers also may send fake emails disguised with seemingly official letterhead from banks and other financial institutions, and even blatantly ask for bank or credit card numbers.
- Door-to-door sales: Con artists pretending to be sales agents or service providers often sell products and services to seniors for exorbitant prices without the victims ever knowing it. Senior citizens have been overcharged by thousands of dollars for home repairs, which in reality, should have cost significantly less.
There are multiple actions that seniors and caretakers can take to avoid being victimized by scammers and con artists. Here are some tips to prevent this from happening.
- Do not give out personal information over the phone. Scammers may claim they are from banks, charities and other organizations, so be extra cautious, especially if they call unexpectedly.
- Do not pay for a "free prize" from any sweepstakes, the postage and handling, or any payments that are supposed to be made to receive the prize.
- If the caller is trying to sell a product or solicit donations, simply decline by saying, "I don't respond to phone solicitations," and hang up. Don't be afraid to interrupt and disconnect a caller.
- Obtain the caller's details such as their complete name, business identity, phone number, mailing address and business license number. Verify the legitimacy of their details before making a transaction. Con artists often give fake names and other details to prevent victims from tracing them.
- Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry managed by the Federal Trade Commission. To register online, go to donotcall.gov and register your phone number at no cost.
- Do not send personal information such as your Social Security number, bank and credit card account numbers, contact details, or address through the mail to someone you don't know regardless of the offer they are presenting.
- Never respond to mail that asks for a check or payment to claim a "free prize" or other similar offers.
- If a product arrives that you did not order, do not open the package and immediately send it back.
- Register with the Mail Preference Service managed by the Direct Marketing Association to reduce the volume of unwanted junk mail. To register online, go to dmachoice.org and register your address.
- Make sure your computer has all the security it needs (e.g., virus protection and firewalls) and that it updates the security system regularly.
- Do not send personal information online. Scammers may send emails with bank letterheads and claim there is a problem, thus their need for your personal details. If this happens, call your bank immediately, report the email to them and verify whether there is indeed a problem.
- Do not open or respond to emails from people you don't know.
- When making online purchases, do not give out your credit card number unless the website is secure and reputable.
- Do not make online donations unless it is to a trusted organization with a secure website.
- Check out a seller at the Better Business Bureau website before making a transaction. Checking other websites for seller legitimacy can help secure the validity of your purchase.
- Do not make purchases for products and services that you do not need.
- Never give out personal information such as your complete name, bank or credit card numbers, Social Security number, and contact details.
- Do not make payments in advance to get started on a service.
- Do not allow strangers to enter your home. Scammers may pose as utility workers, saying they need to check something inside or asking if they can use your bathroom while an accomplice sneaks in and steals your valuables.
Education and awareness are the first step to preventing senior fraud. If you have fallen victim to a con artist's ploys, do not hesitate to contact the police. Seniors often choose not to report the fraud because they feel embarrassed about being a victim. Take the necessary actions like filing a fraud report, closing financial accounts and contacting your family to assist you in reporting the incident. Most importantly, be proactive. Put security systems in place, register your phone number and address in do-not-contact lists, and entertain calls and visits only from the people you know.