Top 10 senior scams

Posted 10/17/18

There are many different kinds of scams out there, but most share the same goal: to swindle victims out of their hard-earned money. According to the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, the …

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Top 10 senior scams


There are many different kinds of scams out there, but most share the same goal: to swindle victims out of their hard-earned money. According to the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, the following are the top 10 forms of fraud that target seniors.

10. Mail fraud

These cases involve phony checks or letters in the mail informing recipients that they have just won a large sum of money or an expensive item like a new car. In order to receive their “prize,” recipients usually told they must pay some kind of processing fee or give out their personal information. By the time they find out they have been the victims of fraud, the scammers have disappeared with their money or their identities.

Because it is relatively easy these days to fabricate authentic-looking checks; any time you receive a check in the mail, bring it to the bank to verify its validity before taking any action. Just as the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true… it is.

9. Sweetheart swindles

Also known as “catfishing,” this scheme occurs on social media, starting out with a stranger reaching out to the victim online and pursuing a romantic relationship via the internet. It is extremely easy for scammers to create authentic-looking social media accounts using other people’s pictures and information. The stranger typically has a similar set of interests as the victim, lives in another country but plans to move back to the victim’s area soon and has money tied up in a retirement fund that they will have access to shortly but for the time being will need to borrow money from the victim.

These relationships could be weeks short or years long. Once trust has been earned, the scammer will finally say that he or she is ready to meet face to face, but will ask for transportation money from the victim.

The minute a stranger online starts asking for money, it’s time to break off the relationship and block them immediately.

8. Investment schemes

Always be wary of pyramid schemes that aim to enlist as many members as possible under the false promise that they will eventually double or triple their money. These scams can happen locally and even within trusted community groups if infiltrated by con artists.

7. Front-door fraud

These scams often come in the form of a person visiting someone’s front door and offering their services, usually home-improvement related. The most common home-improvement scams dealt with in Pennsylvania are seal-coat driveways that look good—until it rains and washes away the seal coating.

Any time a person presents themselves as a contractor, asks to be paid up front in cash and does not provide a contract, it is almost certainly a scam. Do not to agree to any home-improvement job without a full, trustworthy contract. One trusty method is paying in thirds: one third on the start date, one third in the middle of the project and one third when the project is completed.

6. Medical alert scams

Any time you receive a phone call from a supposed medical-alert company asking for insurance information, the risk involved is twofold. First, even if it is a legitimate medical alert service, that does not necessarily mean it is covered by insurance. Second, it could be scammers posing as a medical-alert company in order to steal your insurance information. Seniors should always consult with their physicians and an Apprise representative (in PA) or HIICAP representative (in New York) before giving out any insurance information. You can find these representatives by calling your area agency on aging.

5. Charities overburdened with overhead

Charity organizations frequently send letters and leave voicemails soliciting donations. The problem with some large charities is that the great majority of donations may go toward paying salaries and funding marketing campaigns. If you want to donate, it’s a better idea to give to local charities that are more trustworthy and that actually use donations as they are intended.

4. Government grifters

Some scammers will pose as government agencies, most commonly the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or as collection agencies working with the IRS. They usually call people and tell them that they have not paid their taxes and need to make a payment immediately. Authentic notices of unpaid taxes are usually sent via U.S. certified mail, so if you receive a phone call like this, it’s probably fraudulent.

3. Healthcare scams

Senior citizens specifically should be cautious any time people are trying to sell them a new form of healthcare. Even legitimate-looking companies can be fraudulent. If you’re considering signing up for a new plan, never give out personal information without first reading all of the fine print, using the buddy system, calling a primary physician and consulting an Apprise or HIICAP representative.

2. Sweepstake schemes

These are a common form of fraud, similar to mail fraud, in which people are informed that they have won a sweepstakes and that they must pay taxes on their winnings either with a credit card or check.

Victims of fraud may also be asked to buy prepaid gift cards and send it to the company. The company claims it will reimburse them with a check supposedly coming in the mail. The check never comes.

1. Grandparent scams

Con artists will impersonate grandchildren and call seniors claiming to be in distress. They often use social media to gain personal information about grandchildren and make the impersonation seem more realistic. In these instances, use your instincts. If the person on the other end of the line does not sound like who they claim to be, and is asking for instant money, hang up the phone.

[The presentation on which this list is based, titled “Scam Alert,” was given by senior supervisory special agent Janene Holter from the PA Attorney General’s office at a meeting sponsored by Getting Older Together (GOT). The mission of GOT is to give adult residents aged 60 and older, in Wayne County, PA, and western Sullivan County, NY, both the practical means and the connections to live independently in homes of their choice. To learn more about GOT, call 570/630-0509 or visit ]



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