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Scams and Fraud Targeting the Elderly

By: Megan N. Miller, BBB Public Relations Specialist

Why are the elderly targeted in scams? There are several reasons; some being fixed income, the need for more income and trusting personalities. Scammers also know that with the elderly, incidents often go unreported and the ones that are reported tend to lack important details due to the victim’s poor organization or memory.
To make matters worse, seniors who have a language barrier are even more at risk.
The following are some of the most common areas where the elderly are targeted:
  • Door-to-door selling. There are many complaints filed with the BBB against people who solicit door-to-door selling everything from security systems, magazines, home repair, roofing, landscaping and even phony insurance. Most complaints are about being pressured into signing unethical contracts. Other complaints are about scammers taking money up front and not delivering.
  • Telemarketing. One of the most common factors in scams over the phone is that the caller pretends to be someone they’re not. To gain your trust, they may pretend to be from your bank, a company you do business with, a collection agency or charity. They often ask to verify account information or other personal information. They may also offer some kind of fake promotion and ask for your credit card number. Those who fall for these ploys not only lose money but often become victims of identity theft. Another prevalent telephone scheme is called the “Grandparent Scam” where a criminal pretends to be your grandchild in an emergency and needs money wired immediately.
  • Sweepstakes and other mail fraud. On a daily basis, the BBB receives calls from elderly citizens wanting to verify a check or a prize winning they received in the mail. These are always fraudulent. In order to get the full amount of the prize, they are asked to either send money or cash the check sent to them and wire an amount back to the sender. The problem is; it takes a couple of weeks for the bank to realize the check was fraudulent and by then the victim has already wired the money. There is no recourse for the victim because wire transfers are untraceable and they are responsible to their bank for the amount of the fake check.
Remember the following tips to avoid being victimized:
  • When you are home alone, do not answer your door to anyone unfamiliar.
  • Do not ever let a door-to-door solicitor in your home for any reason.
  • Do not be high pressured whether on the phone or at your doorstep.
  • Always ask for written information and get the BBB report for the company or charity before making any decision.
  • Read contracts very carefully before signing and do not agree to anything you do not understand. Also, get someone else to read over the contract for you for a second opinion.
  • Know that by law, if you only speak Spanish, contracts signed at your door must be in Spanish.
  • Do not ever give personal or financial information to an unexpected caller, no matter who they say they are.
  • Do not ever wire funds.
  • Know that if you are asked to send money first to receive any kind of prize, this is a scam and it is illegal to participate. Most of these offers are from foreign countries.