7 Scams Targeting Older Adults & How to Avoid Them

March 14, 2022  |  by WesleyLife

The FBI estimates that older adults lose more than $3 billion to scams every year. In fact, this group loses more money to scams than any other age group. Although anyone can be a target, older adults are at higher risk due to cultural and societal factors, such as social isolation and increased wealth. Some older adults also have less experience with modern technology, making them more vulnerable to technology-based scams. That’s why you need to watch out for these common scams that target the elderly, which waste time and money and cause heartache. 

1. Fraudulent Warranty Scams

People who want to scam you often start the process with a phone call or text. One common ploy is to offer a fraudulent warranty for your car or other valuable product. There’s no actual warranty, and once you pay the money, you never hear from the scammer again. 

Another common ploy is to sell you a legitimate warranty, but one that you don’t need or doesn’t offer much benefit. 

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To avoid these scams, don’t buy anything through calls or texts. And if you purchase a new car or other valuable product, don’t make an impulse warranty buy. Instead, ask to see the contract, then take it home for review. If you're comfortable doing so, run the contract past a professional you trust before making your decision.

2. “You’ve Won” Scams

The idea of winning money is exciting, but you’re unlikely to win a contest you didn’t enter. Some common scams include: 

  • Emails from people in other countries stating they intend to share their inheritance with you. 
  • Messages from long-lost relatives, saying they will give you money for a small fee. 
  • “Winner” alerts from raffles you didn’t enter, requesting money to claim your winnings. 

Legitimate contests need you to enter to win, and payouts from wills and trusts do not require an upfront fee. Never give money to someone you don’t know, and know that it’s unlikely for someone to give out thousands of dollars to strangers. 

3. Family Emergency Scams

This is one of the most offensive financial scams targeting the elderly because it plays on your loyalty and love. It can also be very difficult to detect. The scam works like this: Someone gains access to your loved one’s information, then contacts you pretending to be that loved one in an emergency. They might steal your grandchild’s phone and text you from it or hack into your child’s social media profile and contact you asking for money. 

Before giving money to someone claiming to be your loved one, call that loved one. Typically, you will find that they are safe at home. If they don’t answer, be sure to call a trusted family member or friend to help you verify if the story is true. 

4. Facebook and Social Media Scams 

Have you ever received a social media friend request from someone you thought you were already friends with? The invitation may be coming from a cloned profile. This happens when someone steals the profile picture of someone you know and creates a new profile pretending to be that person. They can then trick you into giving away sensitive information, passwords, or even money. 

If you receive a friend request from someone already on your friends list — especially if you don’t share any mutual friends with this new profile — the request may be from a cloned profile. Calling or sending a quick text to the friend in question can prevent you from being scammed, protect other people the scammer might be targeting, and inform the friend that their profile was cloned. Learn more about cloned Facebook accounts here.

5. Health and Wellness Scams 

We all wish there was a miracle cure for dementia, cancer, and chronic illnesses. However, if someone discovered such a cure, companies and doctors wouldn’t conceal the truth. Instead, they would rejoice and make it widely available. Although certain supplements might aid with chronic health issues — vitamin D and calcium to prevent osteoporosis, for example — no vitamin or mineral can cure life-limiting illnesses or save your life. 

Similarly, although exercise and a healthy diet are undeniably good for you, highly restrictive diets and exercise plans are not cures for serious illness. In some cases, they may even be harmful, especially when they encourage disordered eating or undermine the quality of life in someone with a terminal or progressive illness. If a person is trying to sell you a diet plan or exercise regimen, it’s always wise to rely on the guidance of your medical care team rather than making a purchase.

Quality health information is free on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) websites, and details about the right diet for you should be readily available at your doctor’s office. Don’t shell out money for specialized programs or products that won’t work.  

6. Medicare Scams

Medicare and Medicaid scams offer to sell you health insurance policies that don’t exist. They usually begin with a phone call, email, or text. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) doesn’t contact people to sell policies. Instead, contact CMS on the phone or visit one of its local offices for help finding the best policy for your needs. 

7. Door-to-Door Scams

Door-to-door scams use high-pressure sales tactics to encourage people to make impulse purchases. The salespeople are often quite charming. However, in many cases, the products don’t work or don’t exist. In other cases, the scam is a ploy to gain access to your personal information. Identity theft can give a criminal access to your bank account, your credit, and more, and is one of the most profitable scams targeting older Americans. 

Buying a product from a stranger is risky. Don’t accept unsolicited sales pitches. Instead, if there’s something you want, spend time reading reviews and investigating to ensure you have chosen a legitimate company offering quality products. 

If you or a loved one are concerned about financial scams targeting the elderly, the right senior living community can help by offering support with some of the challenges scams purport to address. The executive director of your chosen community is also a great source of information when you are approached with questionable sales pitches. 

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