(Yesterday I reviewed Art Maines' book Scammed. Today he writes about the most common types of scams.)
The 5 Most Common Types of Scams Against the Elderly and How to Spot Them
Crimes against the elderly are on the rise. Scammers target seniors and use sophisticated techniques to fleece them. Here are the most common scams targeting the elderly.
1. “Nigerian Scam,” also known as an “advance-fee” scam. This is where the crooks tell your elder they can earn some money and help the scammer get some money out of a bad situation in a foreign country by either sending the criminals some money, or giving the criminals their bank account number.
- Email, letter, or phone call claiming to be from someone in another country who is trying to get a large sum of money out of that country.
- Scammer says they are being persecuted or are in some kind of danger (often political or religious).
- Scammer asks your elder to send them money or help them get the money out of the country in exchange for a part of the total amount (usually significant).
- Scammer asks for information like the name of your parent’s financial institution and account numbers.
2. Telemarketing scams. These take on a myriad of forms, trying to sell your parent something like a time share, or telling them they won a prize, etc.
- Phone call from someone who sounds very nice, showing interest in your parent and possibly their family. Play this role with your Mom or Dad.
- Claims of an amazing, limited-time deal which sounds “too good to be true” (because it is).
- Scammer says your parent has won a prize, sometimes large, and sometimes smaller as a way of testing your parent’s susceptibility to being manipulated.
- Scammer asks for money for “fees, customs, etc.,” as a condition of receiving the purported prize.
- Scammer asks for a credit card number to pay for the “amazing deal,” or any personal information such as their Social Security number to “verify their status as a winner,” or some other nonsense.
- Set up caller ID for your parent.
3. Home repair rip-offs. Most of the time, the crook approaches an elderly person with a story they concocted about some dire problem with their home.
- Pretend to be a person who comes to the door, claiming your parent has some sort of problem with their house or yard.
- Scammer pressures your parent to “do it now” for X amount of money (may be small or large, depending on how the crook assesses your parent’s vulnerability. Elderly women seem to be especially likely to be charged a larger sum of money).
- Scammer doesn’t provide a materials list or written estimate.
4. Fake checks. Your senior may receive a very convincing-looking check or money orders in the mail. The instructions are usually some variation of “deposit this check in your bank and send us (the scammers) X amount of dollars. Keep the rest for helping us out.” The problem is the bank is required to give your parent access to their money from the fake check right away, but when the check turns out to be phony (usually a few days to a few weeks later) your parent is on the hook for the whole amount.
- Appearance of a check or money order in the mail, most often for a significant sum of money.
- The check/money order comes with instructions to wire money, especially overseas.
- Common variations include scammers who befriend the older person before sending them the fake check and asking them to cash it for them as a favor, foreign business deals, work-at-home scams, scammers offering to buy something your parent is selling for more than the asking price, and advances on inheritances or lottery/sweepstakes winnings. You can role play any or all of these scenarios.
- Take a look at www.fakechecks.org, a service of the National Consumers League for more information.
5. Phony winnings, whether small or large. As with many scams, this can take many forms, including foreign lotteries and impostors claiming to be from a legitimate sweepstakes calling to tell your parent they’ve won a prize. A more recent version is an email or pop-up ad on the computer screen saying they’ve won a gift card. Often these are schemes to commit identity theft in addition to stealing money
- Any contact which claims your parent has won a prize of any kind.
- Scammers send your parent a check for an advance on their “winnings.” Let them know it’s normal to be excited to see their name on a check with lots of zeroes, but they’re at high risk because their emotions are cranked up.
- Presence of time pressures to “act now!” or miss out on the purported prize as part of the scam invitation. This is prime material for a role play.
- Talk to your parent about phony pop-up ads on the computer.
Talk to your elder about these scams regularly so that they can be on the alert for these con men. Remind them that the crooks will be kind, friendly, and nice. Elders often expect scammers to be ‘bad guys’. The most successful scammers use warmth, interest, and pseudo-friendship to lure the senior into trusting them before ripping them off.
Art Maines, LCSW, is a therapist in private practice and an expert in Elderly Fraud Recovery and Prevention. His new book Scammed: 3 Steps to Protect Your Elder Parents and Yourself, gives in-depth information on scam prevention and recovery.