PERSONAL FINANCE: Seniors should be on high alert for scams
I look forward to the day when we no longer need to warn senior citizens about scams designed to separate them from their hard-earned money. I'm not holding my breath, however.
According to the FBI, senior citizens make attractive targets for con artists for a variety of reasons:
— They're more likely to have a nest egg, own their home and have good credit.
— Seniors are less likely to report fraud because they don't know where to report it, don't realize they've been scammed, or are too ashamed at having been duped — possibly fearing they won't be trusted to manage their own finances going forward.
— When elderly victims do report crimes, they often make poor witnesses because of faulty memory.
— Seniors are more susceptible to products promising increased wealth, cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties and so on.
Pretending to fix a security breach
Here's a roundup of common telemarketing scams targeting seniors and how you can avoid them:
Be wary, even if callers appear legitimate. Caller ID "spoofers" pretending to represent your bank, credit card company or government agencies may try to trick you into revealing personal information under the pretext of fixing a security breach. When in doubt, hang up and contact the organization yourself.
Free prizes to the ‘Grandparent Scam’
Other common telemarketing scams include:
— You've supposedly won a free prize but are asked to pay for handling, postage or taxes. By law, you never have to pay for any legitimate prize.
— Get-rich-quick schemes, like those involving Nigerian princes trying to smuggle funds out of their country using your bank account in exchange for a cut of the amount.
— The "Grandparent Scam," where someone pretending to be your grandchild calls in a panic, claiming to have been arrested or injured (often abroad) and asking you to wire them money — and not to tell their parents because they're embarrassed.
— Soliciting funds for fake charities, especially after natural disasters.
— Companies offering seniors free medical equipment or services. After you provide your Medicare number, they forge a doctor's signature and bill Medicare for unneeded goods or services you never actually receive.
— Some particularly brazen thieves will even offer to help you recover money you've lost to other scammers (who are often part of the same operation).
If it sounds too good to be true...
Although direct telephone contact is common, scammers also use mailers, email, texts and advertisements to lure potential victims into contacting them for further information.
A few tip-offs these offers — whatever the medium used — might be bogus:
— The offer sounds too good to be true.
— High-pressure sales tactics. They won't take “no” for an answer have sensible-sounding answers for your every question or hesitation.
— You must make a decision "right now" because the offer will expire soon.
— Claims that you are one of just a few people eligible for the offer.
— Your credit card number is requested for verification. Never provide credit card or other personal information by phone, letter or email unless you made the initial contact.
— You are urged to provide money quickly and not given time to consider the offer.
— There is no risk. All investments have some risk, except for U.S. government obligations.
— They refuse to provide detailed written information.
— You are asked to trust the telemarketer. Like your mother always said, "Don't trust strangers."
The Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) has a Scam Alert Blog that exposes the latest scams, as well as a site where you can file a complaint if a business doesn't make good on its promises or cheats you out of your money.
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.