Medicare, investments, and prepaid funerals represent just a few of the areas in which you may become a victim of fraud. Unfortunately, the number of possible scams is limited only by the imagination of the con artist. To protect yourself, you must be wary of some of the most common vehicles for these schemes.
Scammers who want to defraud you by phone assume that many senior citizens will speak with a stranger due to loneliness or reluctance to seem rude. They also know that, as a group, older people are much more likely to make purchases by phone. That is why, according to research, dishonest telemarketers direct as many as 80% of their calls to older adults. Unfortunately, the lack of paper trail and face-to-face interaction make telemarketing fraud exceptionally difficult to trace. Insidious as this type of fraud is, with some knowledge and caution, you can protect yourself.
- Sign up for the “do not call” registry. This free service, while not foolproof against telemarketing fraud, will significantly cut down the volume of unwanted calls. Call toll free at 888-382-1222, or register online at www.donotcall.gov.
- Establish a personal policy about unsolicited calls, and stick to it. When a telemarketer calls, explain (politely but immediately) that you do not accept unsolicited calls. Then simply hang up without allowing the caller to argue. This action is not rude. You have the right to control the calls coming into your home.
- If you do speak with a telemarketer, never provide personal or financial information to an unsolicited caller over the phone. Ask for the details in writing. You should also ask for the name, address, and phone number of the caller or the business they represent in order to verify their legitimacy. If they hesitate to honor these requests, hang up immediately.
Con artists who try to scam older individuals online assume that senior citizens are less familiar with safety on the Web and easier targets than those who have grown up with the internet. As with telemarketing offers, knowledge and caution are keys to protection.
- Verify all offers through an outside source.
- Don’t offer personal information online in response to an unsolicited email.
- Avoid clicking on unsolicited links and popup windows. These can lead to fake websites that can be difficult to distinguish from legitimate sites. Instead, access the company’s website by typing the URL directly into your browser.
A free lunch can quickly become costly if you are lured into a fraudulent business transaction. A seminar setting leaves you vulnerable to being influenced not only by a convincing sales pitch, but also by the reactions of others in the group. You may also experience a sense of obligation for having accepted the free meal. If you can’t resist the invitation, protect yourself with the following tips:
- Research the company or individual offering the seminar before attending.
- Remember that the purpose of the seminar is to make sales. Information about the offer may be one-sided, incomplete, manipulative, or even dishonest.
- Resolve to delay making a commitment until you have done further research about the specific offer. Refuse to be rushed!
Although schemes to defraud senior citizens are numerous and diverse, they all share one characteristic–in order to work, they require the cooperation of the victim. You have the right to say no or to hang up. You have the right to withhold your signature and personal information until you understand every detail of the transaction and have evidence of the legitimacy of the company or individual offering it. With a healthy dose of awareness and caution, you have the power to protect yourself from fraud.