Older people are very often the targets of a wide variety of scams. Some aim to steal identities, some are after money.

When unscrupulous professional scammers confuse and gain the trust of older people, they can gain access to bank accounts, credit cards, and even assets.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a senior loved one, or if you’re an older person who wants to protect yourself, it’s crucial you learn to recognise scams and respond appropriately. We hope this article will help shed light on the common scams and schemes.

4 Common Scams

1. Charity Scams

In this case, scammers pose as charity workers and concoct a very believable story with an appeal for donations. This can happen door-to-door or over the phone. Compassionate human beings of any age are vulnerable to such an appeal, so don’t feel ashamed if you are taken in.

There is usually urgency involved. The scammer will insist on immediate donations, perhaps on a credit card, giving the victim no time to research the charity or make an informed decision.

The best response is to refuse the appeal. You can do your own research afterwards, and if it was legitimate, you can make a decision then. Better safe than sorry.

AARP have some good advice on responding to door-to-door scams.

2. Home Repairs Scam

Home repair scams are unfortunately quite common. Here are some red flags of home repair scams from the National Consumers League.

  • A contractor turns up uninvited at your door or calls / emails out of the blue
  • The contractor claims to be doing work for a neighbour and has ‘extra materials’ leftover
  • They pressure you to make a swift decision or sign a contract today
  • A special offer for ‘today only’
  • The contractor points out a problem you have never had e.g. broken roof tiles. In some scams, they will then ‘take a closer look’, break tiles and later offer to fix them.
  • They demand payment upfront
  • They ask you to come and look at the ‘problem’, while an accomplice enters your house

3. Internet & Email Scams

While internet savvy individuals can usually spot a scam email, an unsuspecting older person without much experience online could be taken in more easily. Some scam emails are very well written, push psychological buttons – such as promising big returns, or seeking help – and are thus very dangerous.

The scammer usually asks for personal information, bank routing and account numbers. Sometimes, they will ask for the victim to simply pay shipping to receive their ‘big returns’. In hard times, such scams are particularly cruel to those in financial hardship. Already emotionally vulnerable, some will clutch at any chance of relieving their suffering.

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Delete the email and if you use gmail click the ‘Report Spam’ button to avoid receiving such emails again.

Irish ‘Internet Problem’ Scam

One scam we have been aware of for some time in Ireland is the ‘computer problem’ scam. A scammer calls from a call centre – usually with a foreign accent – and tells you that you have a computer problem. How could they know this without seeing it? They can’t, and they don’t. Ask that they don’t call you again, and hang up.

4. Cries for Help Scams

In this case, scammers phone the older person armed with some basic information convincing them they are a relative, usually a grandchild, in serious financial trouble. They proceed to ask for assistance, in the form of money wired directly into their bank account.

This scam touches emotional buttons and can easily take people in. In this case, don’t commit to giving anything and hang up. Contact your relative or their family to see if the problem is real.

5 Ways to Protect Yourself or your Loved One

1. Healthy Suspicion

It’s not easy to be skeptical. We are all trusting people to some degree. However, a healthy suspicion of unsolicited emails, cold calls, and door-to-door contractors is the most effective way to protect yourself or your loved ones.

2. Never Give Personal Information Online

Legitimate charities and companies will never ask for personal information via email. If you receive such an email, it’s probably a scam.

3. Ask Questions and Get Information

Before you or your loved one does business with a company, obtain a name, address, phone number, and website for the person you’re talking to. Tell them you need to research before making a decision. Asking a few questions can be enough to scare some scammers away.

4. Don’t Make Decisions Under Pressure

If a telemarketer or a contractor at your door pressure you to make a swift decision, hang up or close the door. Don’t be afraid of missing a special deal. Do your research and protect yourself.

5. Invest Carefully 

The most fool-proof investments are done with the help of a financial advisor, not someone who cold-calls your house or arrives uninvited on your doorstep. If you wish to invest, find a financial planner you can trust. Get recommendations from friends or talk to your local bank manager.

Further Reading

– Caregiverstress.com have an excellent video series about Senior Fraud here: www.caregiverstress.com/senior-safety/senior-fraud/

– You can also download a ‘Senior Fraud Protection Kit’.

– FBI Common Fraud Schemes

– 6 Red Flags of Financial Fraud

– www.agingcare.com/Frauds-Scams

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