How to Help Seniors Avoid Scams
As technology changes around us, so do the ways that criminals attempt to scam people. Too often, seniors are the targets of scams that attempt to get money or identity information. It’s easy to see why seniors would be the targets of these types of crimes: they are the people most likely to have savings to steal; their credit is usually better than younger generations’; they are often unaware of the methods scammers use to get information; and they are often unreliable witnesses due to illnesses that cause dementia and forgetfulness.
When you have an elderly relative that is still largely independent, it’s important that you ensure they won’t be victims of identity theft and other scams. Here are some of the most common types of scams, and some easy solutions for avoiding them.
Charity Cold Calls
This scam preys on the goodwill and kind hearts of your grandparents and other elderly relatives. Criminals call your relative during times of worldwide trouble (there is always something on the news that scammers can draw from). They claim to be collecting donations for a worthy-sounding cause. Usually these scammers are expert salesmen, knowing exactly how to phrase things to make themselves seem legitimate.
Once a donation is given (frequently a low number that feels like an easy amount to give), the scammers then have your relative’s credit card number that they can use to steal money. Instead of giving donations to these charity cold callers, your relatives can seek out charities that they wish to donate to, and do so through safe channels. They should never give out credit card information over the phone, no matter who calls.
Information phishing takes many forms. Sometimes it comes in the form of a call from someone claiming to be from an official organization, like the bank or the IRS, claiming that your relative needs to update their personal information. These types of scams usually include some scare tactics intended to make the person on the other end of the phone feel as though they must speak to the “official” right away.
For example, a call from the IRS informing your relative that they owe a large amount of back taxes seems very alarming. When your relative insists that they have always paid their taxes on time, the representative on the phone informs your relative that they just need to confirm their personal information to be sure that the records are correct. The elderly person jumps at the chance to clear their name, and hands over information like their name, address, social security number, birthday, and job history. All of these items can be used to steal their identity. With this information, scammers can open credit cards, make large purchases, or get loans in your relatives’ name.
Avoiding these scams is a simple matter of refusing to give out personal information over the phone. Official organizations like the IRS or a bank will always send mail, usually registered mail, before calling. They will never ask for your information over the phone.
One of the worst types of scams that seniors often fall victim to is grief scams. These occur when a funeral home or cremation service fraudulently adds charges, or sells unnecessary services, to grieving relatives in order to make money. For example, some unscrupulous funeral homes won’t mention that there are smaller, cheaper options for a casket when a family member has been cremated, allowing the living family members to pay the high cost of a full-sized casket for the visitation.
In times of grief and possible confusion, it’s best to assign a specific, level-headed family member or close friend to help assist with decision making. This person can look over contracts, check bills and receipts, and offer a calm opinion throughout the uncomfortable stages of grief.
With these steps, your senior relative will be protected from the many horrible scams that exist today.