Top 10 Scams Targeting Seniors
Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services lists the top 10 financial scams targeting seniors.
Don't lose your savings to a scam.
"Because seniors are thought to have a significant amount of money sitting in their [bank] accounts ... financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they're now considered the crime of the 21st century," the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services reported.
And, as financial scams are difficult to prosecute and are often not reported, they're considered a low-risk crime, the department added.
Here are the top 10 financial scams targeting seniors, according to the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services:
1. Medicare, health care and health insurance fraud
Because every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, "there is rarely any need for a scam artist to research what private health insurance company older people have in order to scam them out of some money," the department said.
Scam artists posing as Medicare representatives convince older people to give them personal information, or the scammers provide "bogus services ... at makeshift mobile clinics," then use victims' personal information to bill Medicare and keep the reimbursement, the department added.
2. Counterfeit prescription drugs
Many counterfeit drug scams are done over the Internet, "where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications," the department said.
In the 1990s, only an average of five such scams a year were investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Since 2000, the FDA has investigated about 20 of these scams a year, the department added.
These scams are particularly dangerous because the bogus drugs that victims receive in the mail can be quite harmful to the body, especially if taken in place of necessary drugs.
3. Funeral and cemetery scams
The two primary types of funeral and cemetery scams are: scammers approaching widows and widowers at funerals, claiming that the deceased owed them debts; and funeral homes adding unnecessary costs to funeral bills, the department said.
4. Fraudulent anti-aging products
"Whether it's fake Botox ... or completely bogus homeopathic remedies that do absolutely nothing, there is money in the anti-aging business," the department said.
Cheap Botox is often made from the root Botox ingredient botulism neurotoxin—"one of the most toxic substances known to science. A bad batch can have health consequences far beyond wrinkles or drooping neck muscles," the department added.
"Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls [i.e., charity scams] to prey on older people, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. ... With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace," the department said.
6. Internet fraud
Because many seniors are not as familiar with 'surfing the Web' as younger generations are, they may not realize it when they are "downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus" that will make whatever information is stored on their computers available to scammers and hackers, the department said.
7. Investment schemes
"From pyramid schemes like Bernie Madoff's (which counted a number of senior citizens among its victims) to fables of a Nigerian prince looking for a partner to claim inheritance money to complex financial products that many economists don't even understand, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people," the department said.
8. Homeowner and reverse mortgage scams
"Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many people above a certain age own their homes, a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value of a certain scam," the department said.
Legitimate reverse mortgages have increased dramatically over the past decade, and scammers have been taking advantage of the reverse mortgage's popularity. Unsecured reverse mortgages "can lead property owners to lose their homes when the perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property," the department added.
9. Sweepstakes and lottery scams
In this scam, the department said, a scammer informs a victim that the victim has won a certain amount of prize money, but that the victim will have to pay the scammer fees or taxes to claim the prize. The scammer sends a fake check to the victim, who deposits the check into his or her bank account and pays the taxes or fees to the scammer before learning that the check has bounced.
10. The grandparent scam
This scam "is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults' most reliable assets, their hearts," the department said.
In this scam, a scammer calls an unsuspecting older person. When the victim picks up the phone, the scammer asks a question like, "Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?"
If the victim 'guesses' who the caller is by naming a grandchild, "the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research," and can then go on to request money for things like overdue rent or car payments, to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, "which don't always require identification to collect," the department said.
"While the sums from such a scam are likely to be in the hundreds, the very fact that no research is needed makes this a scam that can be perpetrated over and over at very little cost to the scammer," the department added.