Not long after filing his 2014 tax return, my father received a strange, somewhat sinister message on his answering machine: the IRS was going to sue him for back taxes! At 90, my dad is sharper than a premium kitchen knife, but he was still alarmed. Thankfully, he remembered what I’d told him about the Internet being a useful research tool. He typed the phone number of the purported IRS caller into a search engine, and the results screamed “SCAM!” It was a number in Washington, all right, but not Washington, D.C.: Washington State. And despite the many warnings about this well-known scam, even elders as alert as my dad fall prey to it every year.
But IRS scams aren’t the only ruse older adults need to watch out for. We’ve looked at ways to protect seniors from financial fraud as well as identity theft and property crime. Here’s a recap of six senior scams that reverse mortgage professionals can share with their prospects and clients to help them stay safe. You may wish to print this list and hand it out to seniors and their families:
1. “Grandma, can you loan me some money?” According to the National Council on Aging, scammers place a call to an older person and when the “mark” picks up, say something along the lines of: “‘Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?’ When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.”
What to do: If you think the caller might actually be your grandchild, say, “Oh honey, I’m right in the middle of something! Give me your number and I’ll call you back.” A scammer will either hang up or try again to get you to guess their name. Hang up. Then call your local phone company and have Caller ID installed.
2. “You’ve just won our sweepstakes!” Though sweepstakes and lottery scams are old news, seniors still fall for them — along with the scammer’s request that they provide personal data so the winnings can be directly deposited into their bank account.
What to do: Hang up and install Caller ID.
3. “Look younger by Monday!” Fake anti-aging product scams are mushrooming in popularity, especially as the Boomer generation ages.
What to do: Buy and use only those products that have been vetted by a health care professional you trust.
4. Mock meds. Like fraudulent anti-aging products, counterfeit prescription drugs have proliferated as seniors increasingly shop online in order to save money.
What to do: Before buying a product that can harm your body as much as your pocketbook, check with your doctor or other healthcare provider to be sure both the product and the company are genuine. If you plan to do a lot of online shopping, open a separate checking account with a credit/debit card that you use only for this purpose; this way, any fraudulent charges will be easy to spot. In addition, keeping your online transactions completely separate helps protect your primary account(s) from being compromised.
5. “This car needs a lot of work.” An RV repair shop tried this on me when I brought a new-to-me camping van in for leaking A/C. Along with the bill, the shop presented me with a list of other “necessary” repairs totaling $2000! I told them if I’d thought the van needed that much work, I wouldn’t have bought it.
What to do: Have a younger family member or trusted friend negotiate any repair work (such as auto repairs or yard work), or ask someone you trust to review the estimate prior to giving the go-ahead to start work.
6. Upselling the bereaved. One of the most reprehensible scams involves preying on the grieving, by selling the most expensive funeral services, caskets, etc., or adding charges to the bill.
What to do: It’s difficult to think clearly while in deep grief. Ask a family member not as closely related to the deceased, or a trusted friend, to help with the arrangements.
These are some of the more common scams smart seniors should be aware of in order to keep their finances, property, health, safety, and sanity intact.