At Fraud Doctor we primarily focus on fraud committed against organizations such as large complex corporate frauds. However, there is a substantial component of fraud that is committed against individuals. Increasingly, consumer fraud is becoming a significant issue within the elderly communities. As a result, we've partnered with the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) to bring you information about consumer fraud specific to senior citizens. We've compiled several resources for both elders and their caregivers about a variety of scams targeted against seniors.
Identity theft is an issue that can impact everyone, including seniors. Eva Velasquez of the Identity Theft Resource Center shares how the company helps victims of identity theft and the efforts they take to prevent scams from affecting more people.
Below are just a few of the scams that target elders. Click on the category to expand the section. Then click on the scheme name (if there are multiple schemes) to expand for an explanation. Note that some of these scams are targeted towards veterans; however variations of many of the scams can be applied to non-veterans as well.
Anti-Aging Product Scams
In a society bombarded with images of the young and beautiful, it’s not surprising that some older people feel the need to conceal their age in order to participate more fully in social circles and the workplace. After all, 60 is the new 40, right?
It is in this spirit that many older Americans seek out new treatments and medications to maintain a youthful appearance, putting them at risk of scammers. Whether it’s fake Botox like the one in Arizona that netted its distributors (who were convicted and jailed in 2006) $1.5 million in barely a year, or completely bogus homeopathic remedies that do absolutely nothing, there is money in the anti-aging business.
Botox scams are particularly unsettling, as renegade labs creating versions of the real thing may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin, which is one of the most toxic substances known to science. A bad batch can have health consequences far beyond wrinkles or drooping neck muscles. (Source: NCOA)
Benefits buyout scam
Scammers offer an upfront payment of cash in exchange for a veteran's future disability or pension payments. These buyouts are typically a fraction of the value of the benefit. (Source: AARP)
Charging for records scam
A scammer attempts to charge for access to a veteran's military records or government forms. Never pay for your records: all information is free through your local VA. (Source: AARP)
G.I. Bill education marketing scam
Veterans seeking to take advantage of the G.I. Bill for college courses may be targets of deceptive marketing tactics that provide false information and encourage them to attend expensive for-profit educational institutions. The VA offers a comparison tool to help you locate a school and determine your benefits. Visit www.vets.gov/education/gi-bill. (Source: AARP)
Investment / pension scam
Unscrupulous investment advisers claim the veteran may be able to claim additional government benefits by overhauling their investment holdings. Get credible information on how to qualify for veterans' benefits by contacting your state veterans' affairs agency. Visit www.nasdva.us and click on "Links." (Source: AARP)
Special deals for veterans scam
Scammers offer special discounts for veterans on a range of products, like loans and car purchases. Often, the products aren't discounted at all, or they don't actually exist. Check out offers carefully, and never wire money to someone you don't know. (Source: AARP)
Veterans Choice Program scam
Scammers have set up a phone number nearly identical to the number veterans dial to find out if they are eligible to use approved health care providers outside of the VA system. Veterans call the fake number and a message prompts them to leave their credit card information in return for a rebate. They debit your account, and the vet gets nothing in return. Make sure to dial the correct number for the VCP: 866-606-8198. (Source: AARP)
Funeral & Cemetery Scams
The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors.
In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.
Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of funeral services, is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket. (Source: NCOA)
Whether it’s an irate billing clerk or someone posing as a Medicare agent, senior citizens are easy targets for health care scams. The reasons are simple. First, once a citizen reaches the age of 65, Medicare is automatic; that means a scammer doesn’t have to phish around in the dark for an unwitting victim. Also, as a whole, elderly adults receive more frequent health care visits, meaning threatening callers posing as a billing clerk are more likely to be believable. Remember, your health care is a privacy issue. If anyone contacts you concerning an unpaid bill, asking for “verification” of your Medicare account, or any other health-related issue, refuse to comply. Contact your health care provider or the Medicare office directly if you have questions or concerns, and do not give out your personal data to someone who contacts you by phone. (Source: ITRC)
Counterfeit prescription drugs scam
Most commonly, counterfeit drug scams operate on the Internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications. This scam is growing in popularity—since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, up from five a year in the 1990s.
The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a person’s medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm. This scam can be as hard on the body as it is on the wallet. (Source: NCOA)
Homeowner / Reverse Mortgage Scams
Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many people above a certain age own their homes, a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value of a certain scam.
A particularly elaborate property tax scam in San Diego saw fraudsters sending personalized letters to different properties apparently on behalf of the County Assessor’s Office. The letter, made to look official but displaying only public information, would identify the property’s assessed value and offer the homeowner, for a fee of course, to arrange for a reassessment of the property’s value and therefore the tax burden associated with it.
Closely related, there is the potential for a reverse mortgage borrower to be scammed. Scammers can take advantage of older adults who have recently unlocked equity in their homes. Those considering reverse mortgages should be cognizant of people in their lives pressuring them to obtain a reverse mortgage, or those that stand to benefit from the borrower accessing equity, such as home repair companies who approach the older adult directly. (Source: NCOA)
Identity Theft Scams
Con artists post bogus job offers to recruit veterans on various online job boards. The scammer may use or sell your personal information provided in the job application. It's likely a scam if you have to pay to get the job, you need to supply credit card or banking information, or the ad is for "previously undisclosed" federal government jobs. (Source: AARP)
VA Phishing scam
Scammers call veterans claiming they work for the VA and ask for personal information to update their records. If you get an unsolicited call from the VA, hang up. (Source: AARP)
Lotteries or Sweepstakes Scams
Callers go after senior citizens with scams involving lotteries or sweepstakes largely because most seniors could stand to use a little extra money. Even with the most meticulous planning for retirement, there’s a prevalent concern about having enough money set aside to weather any illness or medical condition, to pay for supervised care should the need arise, or just to leave a little inheritance to loved ones. So scammers play off of those feelings by promising you instant wealth in exchange for paying the “taxes and fees.” Remember, you will never be called and told you’ve won some mysterious prize, especially one that you don’t remember entering. If you’re ever informed that you’ve won money and only need to pay some upfront fees to claim it, walk away immediately. (Source: ITRC)
Contest cons and survey swindles scam
In this oldie but goodie, fraudsters post promises of a prize for completing a survey, but the goal is to mine personal information. Crooks’ posts and links appear authentic with URL shorteners. (Source: AARP, Top Phishing Scams on Social Media)
Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.
Gossip gotchas scam
Search terms of celebrity names, coupled with terms such as “video” and “picture,” have long been among the internet’s most typed — and most dangerous for malware. The latest celeb-centric scheme: links that promise illicit videos of Hollywood elite, sports superstars and other household names. Along with malware, many phish for credit card info. (Source: AARP, Top Phishing Scams on Social Media)
Imposter customer care scam
Cybercrooks create fake customer service accounts, via slight keyboard tweaks (say, an extra underscore or character), to intercept messages tweeted to banks, e-commerce or video game producers and phish for log-in and financial account information. “The consumer poses a question to a support site and within minutes receives a response (from an impostor account) providing a link to a solution, which, of course, is also a fake,” notes Devin Redmond, vice president of social media security and compliance at Proofpoint. “The customer not only expects the response, he or she welcomes it and has incentive to follow the link.” If you choose to use social media customer care, be sure to look for the “verified” logo in all communications. (Source: AARP, Top Phishing Scams on Social Media)
Live-stream lures scam
The bait is phony comments and promises of live video streams of popular events, such as a big football game or boxing match available only in certain markets or on pay-per-view. The hook? Links that lead to scammer-run websites, where there’s no sneak peek, only an attempt to get personal and credit card details, often under the guise of a fake free trial. (Source: AARP, Top Phishing Scams on Social Media)
For more information about phishing, go to:
- Phishing and How it Works by Search Security
There’s an awful stereotype surrounding older adults—one of loneliness, coupled with an abundance of free time on their hands during the day—that makes them ripe for phone scams. Using basic robo-dial processes or lists of consumer information, scammers call and offer everything from free trial offers, account assistance, or even ominous threats from agencies like the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). By assuming the potential victims will be home to take the call and easily frightened into compliance, scammers are able to bilk older victims out of a lot of money. Even more alarming, many senior victims have admitted to not reporting the scam because they felt guilty for being so gullible, or were concerned about having their mental faculties called into question. (Source: ITRC)
Family emergency imposter scam
Imposters claim to be friends or family in distress to trick consumers into wiring money. Learn more about family emergency imposter scams at https://www.ftc.gov/imposters
The grandparent scam is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts.
Scammers will place a call to an older person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.
Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”
While the sums from such a scam are likely to be in the hundreds, the very fact that no research is needed makes this a scam that can be perpetrated over and over at very little cost to the scammer. (Source: NCOA)
Pigeon drop scam
The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger. (Source: NCOA)
Tech support imposter scam
Callers impersonate legitimate technical support companies to fool computer users into handing over their personal information or sending money. Learn more about tech support imposter scams at https://www.ftc.gov/imposters (Source: FTC)
A scammer posts a fake rental property on a classified ad website offering discounts for active duty military and veterans. You just need to wire transfer a security deposit to the landlord. Only there is no rental property and you just lost your security deposit. (Source: AARP)
Imposters promise romance to users of online dating sites to trick them into sending money. Learn more about online romance imposter scams at https://www.ftc.gov/imposters (Source: FTC)
CyberGuy Kurt Knutsson on the Dr. Phil Show shares his top ten warning signs to avoid being baited by a catfish, or online dating hoaxer.
Seniors are often targeted by individuals who pose as representatives from a utility company, such as the phone, power, or gas companies. The reason is simple: with the threat of losing their service hanging over their heads, elderly residents are likely to pay up. If an agent calls to say that your gas bill is overdue and your heat is about to be cut off, or someone calls and states that your electricity is about to be suspended for non-payment, hang up immediately and call the utility company directly using a verified phone number. There’s an excellent chance it was the work of a random-dialer scam artist, but it will give you peace of mind to know that the matter is resolved. You’ll also be helping the utility companies remain aware of an active scammer in their area. (Source: ITRC)
Many of the resources below are based in the United States. However, the general concepts are helpful in educational efforts for seniors in other countries as well.
Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC)
If you are an individual who wants more information about how to protect yourself, or an elderly loved one, from identity theft, visit our consumer page. Remember that no matter your problem or concern, we are here to help. Please do not hesitate to call us Toll-Free at 888.400.5530 to speak with an advisor for free assistance. You can also reach us through live chat or via email.
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
The Fraud Watch Network is free of charge for everyone - members, non-members, and people of all ages. You'll learn how to shop and bank safely, create strong passwords, protect yourself from identity theft and scams, use social media with less risk, and more.
LINKS & Phone Lines
- Fraud Watch Network - https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network/
- AARP Fraud Watch Helpline - Call 877-908-3360 to share your story and receive assistance from our call center
- Scams Targeting Veterans
- Under Fire: Military Veterans and Consumer Fraud - a research report
Video: Scammers Are Targeting Veterans
Veteran Chad Wright was just trying to support his family when scammers lured him with a benefits buyout offer. He shares details to warn others.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC's "Pass it On" campaign encourages older adults to help raise awareness about fraud by talking to their family, friends, and neighbors about avoiding common scams. You can even order free materials from their website.
They provide tips for:
- communicating with friends and family
- avoiding scams
- meeting new friends and romantic partners
- sharing your views online
- online shopping, banking, charity and travel
- health and well-being
- dealing with Medicare, Social Security, and the IRS
- security 101
- advice for seniors considering enlisting help from family members or caretakers
Better Business Bureau (BBB)
Focusing on specific issues, the Consumer Education Foundation communicates important information to seniors and their caregivers. Topics include the following: telemarketing, junk mail, sweepstakes offers, investment schemes, fraudulent Medicare offers, charitable giving, email scams, and funeral scams.
- Consumer Education Foundation - Senior Citizen Programs https://www.bbb.org/evansville/programs-services/consumer-education-foundation/senior-citizen-programs/
- Brochure - Protecting Senior Citizens from Fraud
- Poster for Caregivers
- Scam Tracker - to report scams in the United States.
- Senior Trust - sign up for their free e-newsletter, "Senior Trust" to keep apprised of new trends.
- Tips for Seniors
Vintage Identity Theft Videos for Awareness
Citibank, as a major credit card issuer, identified the risk of identity theft to the elderly and vulnerable almost 20-years ago and launched these commercials to try and raise public awareness and discussion. Many of the video by today's standards might seem politically incorrect or even offensive. The videos were targeted for television and therefore the home to try and highlight the role of family in both protecting the elderly and the instances of familiar identity theft by family members and other trusted people such as caregivers and home service providers.