Con artists have always targeted senior citizens; by some estimates, one third of all fraud victims are seniors, despite that fact that they account for only one eighth of the nation’s total population. Heath care fraud is particularly egregious, as approximately 60 percent of those victims are seniors.
The U.S. government estimates that there are over eight hundred “bunco” or fraud schemes currently active in the U.S. Many of these con games, such as high pressure, deceptive sales pitches for living trusts, “low-risk, high-yield” investment scams and “miracle” remedies for various physical ailments, are specifically aimed at senior citizens. Seniors also fall for scams involving advanced loan fees, home improvements, auto repairs and work-at-home “opportunities.”
Con artists pick on seniors for several key reasons:
• Many older people live alone, making it easier for a con artist to go one-on-one and win the trust of his intended victim.
• Many seniors are lonely and thus susceptible to the wiles of a con artist claiming to have a genuine concern for the intended victim’s well being.
• Retired seniors often have, after a lifetime of hard work, large reserves of cash or liquid assets readily available.
• According to the FBI, older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or do not know they have been scammed. In some cases, an elderly victim may not report the crime because he or she is concerned that relatives may come to the conclusion that the victim no longer has the mental capacity to take care of his or her own financial affairs.
• When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. The con-man knows the effects of age on memory and she is counting on the fact that the elderly victim will not be able to supply enough detailed information to investigators such as: How many times did the fraudster call? Did he provide a call back number or address? Was it always the same person? Did you meet in person? What did the fraudster look like? Where did you send the money? What did you receive if anything and how was it delivered? What promises were made and when? These are just a few of the many questions a trained investigator will ask an elderly fraud victim. A trusting senior citizen may not have either the capacity or feel the need to keep such detailed records, a fact of which the fraudsters are keenly aware and take advantage of to protect themselves should there ever be a legal proceeding.
Here are some common tactics used by fraudsters to be on the lookout for:
1. High pressure sales
2. Demands for cash only
3. The need for a quick or on-the-spot decision
4. Secret deals available only to specially selected people
5. No-risk, high-yield investments
6. Delayed delivery or products or services (the con artist could be long gone before the promised delivery date)
Offers that require a cashier’s checks to be sent immediately by private over-night carriers. (Another sign that the con artist is looking to get your money and disappear as soon as possible.) .
So what can senior citizens do to protect themselves from these criminals? Here are a few tips to avoid being taken by any fraudulent schemes:
1. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Don’t let greed overcome common sense. Look out for get-rich-quick schemes, “free” offers, or “you have won” solicitations. Some presentations are so slick, the numbers always seem to crunch favorably. That is part of the con – don’t fall for it.
2. Wait. Don’t fall for “You have to sign up right now or the offer is no good” pitches. An offer from a reputable source will remain available from one day to the next, thus allowing time for proper research, background checks, etc. If you are being pressured to “do it now,” don’t do it at all.
3. Get a second opinion. Consult with someone you trust before making important financial decisions. Show the offer to friends, family, and someone in a professional capacity that can make an objective, informed assessment of the offer.
4. Do a background check. Get all the information you can from the person making the offer: business incorporation info, and personal data, etc., and run it through agencies such as the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General’s Office, or the fraud division of your local police department. If you are dealing with a fraud, discrepancies have a good chance of showing up. If there is anything that seems inappropriate, or makes you uncomfortable, do not move forward with the deal.
5. Never reveal your “vital numbers.” Con artists often ask for personal information such as credit cards, phone cards, date of birth and social security numbers or your personal identification numbers (PIN) for automated teller machine (ATM) transactions in order to verify a contest prize, low-cost vacation or other offer. Banking info, including account and routing numbers are often requested so the funds promised can be “quickly deposited to your account.” Don’t do it! Ever! Be particularly careful when dealing with telemarketers – frauds almost always ask for some personal information, whereas legitimate telemarketing companies, although annoying, never do so.
6. Listen to your instincts. If you have a “gut feeling” that you are dealing with a dishonest person, pay attention! It may not be the most scientific method, but people’s instincts are right more often than not. (Han Solo and Indiana Jones were never wrong when they had “a bad feeling” about something, right?)
So, when confronted with a great financial opportunity, proceed with caution, don’t allow yourself to be pressured, and don’t be afraid to withdraw if anything appears to be wrong.