It’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to scam senior individuals, but it happens all the time. From door-to-door schemes to phone- and web-based financial scams, seniors are targeted by a wide variety of dishonorable scams. To protect yourself or your loved ones, you should be aware of the following well-known scams and how they work.
1) Medicare/Health Insurance Frauds
When an individual reaches the age of 65, he or she immediately qualifies for Medicare. Because this is a widely known fact, it makes it easy for scammers to find a person 65 or older and conduct a Medicare/health insurance-focused scam. These scams are popular because, as long as the person is 65 or older, scammers don’t have to research which insurance company the individual may have and can instead simply pose as a Medicare representative and ask the senior for personal or financial information.
In extreme cases, Medicare scams may take the form of fake mobile clinics that provide routine health care procedures. When seniors take advantage of the scam service at these mobile clinics, the scammers use the seniors’ information to bill Medicare and keep the money for themselves. In order to protect yourself or your loved ones from these scams, don’t give anyone personal or financial information over the phone and always check with Medicare before taking advantage of mobile clinic services. For more information on avoiding these scams, read Medicare’s own “Tips to Prevent Fraud.”
2) Prescription drug fraud
While Medicare fraud takes place in-person and over the phone, prescription drug scams are generally operated through the Internet. Sadly, these scams are often very effective because prescription drugs are expensive and seniors often turn to the Internet in search of better prices for specialty or name-brand medicines. In the last 15 years, the FDA has reported an average of 20 or more prescription drug fraud cases each year, which is up from the rate of 5 per year in the 1990s.
These scams often work by mislabeling drugs and selling them to seniors at inflated prices. These scams are very dangerous because, in addition to robbing seniors of their money, these scammers may provide seniors with unsafe substances that can cause serious injury or even death.
In order to avoid these scams, always talk to your doctor about any generic drugs you want to take or any prescription drug financial help that may be available to you in your state. You can also do a great deal to ensure your safety by simply keeping your wits about you: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you are intrigued by an online offer, take down the website’s information and research it through reputable doctors and lawyers before you make a financial move.
3) End-of-Life scams
While it is upsetting to think about, some scammers go as far as to read local obituaries and attend funeral services. In these cases, scammers often claim that the deceased owed them an outstanding debt in order to try to collect money from the person’s widow or widower.
In some cases, disreputable funeral homes even take part in these scams and will try to victimize a deceased person’s family by adding unneeded costs to the charge of cremation, burial, or funeral services. An example of this includes funeral homes claiming that burial or display caskets (Which often cost thousands of dollars) are necessary for a cremation, which they are not. This adds thousands of dollars to already steep end-of-life expenses.
4) Anti-aging products
While it’s hard to imagine that even anti-aging products can be fraudulent, they often are. As seniors age, many of them seek out anti-aging products to maintain their beauty. Unfortunately, these products are often bogus. A prominent example is a fake Botox distributor in Arizona that made over $1.5 million from seniors in less than a year. Other cases include homeopathic remedies that don’t treat anything.
The Botox scams are the most frightening, however, since the victims of this scam often undergo injections but, instead of Botox, they are injected with a product made in renegade labs and meant to imitate the real thing.
Unfortunately, Botox is a carefully controlled version of botulism, which is a neurotoxin and one of the most dangerous substances in all of science. That said, a bad batch of fake Botox can easily bring about serious health consequences that can leave seniors disfigured or worse. In order to avoid these scams, steer clear of cut-rate beauty treatments and always consult a doctor before taking any medication or undergoing any anti-aging procedure.
5) Telemarketing scams
As a group, seniors make 2x as many purchases over the phone than their younger counterparts. Because of this, telemarketing scams are especially prevalent. In these scams, a person calls claiming to be a representative of the IRS, or a company authorized to fill Medicare benefits or prescriptions.
In these calls, the callers will generally be very pushy about their offers and they will be adamant that the senior can save a huge amount of money by taking them up on their services. The prices within these scams, of course, are always limited-time only. If a senior falls victim to these scams, the telemarketer will take the senior’s financial information and then disappear entirely.
If the scam involved prescription drugs, the scammer may send the senior something in the mail although these “Drugs” will often be dangerous counterfeit versions or vitamins in prescription pill bottles.
In other versions of telemarketing scams, scammers may call on behalf of a fraudulent charity (this is common after natural disasters). In most cases, the scammer will share the victim’s information with other scammers, therefore putting the person at risk of being defrauded multiple times. In order to steer clear of these scams, collect the company name of the person calling and call the company directly (using the number on their website) to ascertain authenticity. If you feel compelled to donate money to a charity, visit the charity’s website and follow the donation directions therein.
6) The “Grandchild” scam
People love their families and scammers will take advantage of this by contacting a senior and claiming that his or her child or grandchild is hurt, in jail, or in danger, and needs money now. Often, these scammers pose as lawyers or other representatives like nurses or doctors. These people tell seniors that they are in charge of getting the money to the affected person and then they take the senior’s information and pocket the money.
In some cases, scammers will actually research you or your loved ones on Facebook or other social media outlets and will pose as a specific relative or friend that needs money in order to scam seniors.
In these cases, there are two large red flags: First of all, the call is coming from a number you don’t recognize and, secondly, you can never call the person back. To protect yourself from these scams, never give out financial information over the phone. If you receive a phone call within which someone is asking you for money, question the person: if a loved one were truly hurt, the representative could give you information regarding where the person is, how he/she can be reached, what happened, and how you can contact him or her. For extra validation, call someone that knows the person in question and ask after his or her condition.
Keep in mind, however, that there are very few situations in which someone would need money wired directly to them and in 99% of cases, it’s safe to assume that these calls are a scam.
While people who scam seniors are despicable, it does happen and being aware of these common scams can help you protect yourself and your loved ones.