Whether it's over the phone, online, or through a complex scheme involving fake end-of-life planning, sketchy scammers love to target the elderly.
Recently we wrote a post about Florida, and one major reason why Florida is the home of so many scams is the large number of elderly people who live there.
The elderly, who are often less technologically competent and/or may be experiencing some mental cognition issues, tend to be easier targets for scammers.
But there are at least a few elderly people who live outside of Florida, and they also need to watch out for scammers. So here are some scams that target the elderly and what you can do to protect yourself or the ones you love.
Debt collectors, credit cards, “fake” family members: The wild world of phone scams.
Justin Lavelle, scam prevention expert and Chief Communications Officer at BeenVerified.com, filled us in on some phone scams the elderly (and the young) should look out for:
“New Credit Card Phone Scam: This scam involves Visa and MasterCard. The scammer will call the victim and say they’re phoning from the Security and Fraud Department at Visa or MasterCard. They’ll say that the victim’s card has been flagged for an unusual purchase and they’re calling to verify the purchase was made by the authorized cardholder. They’ll ask the victim about a specific purchase and when the victim denies making that purchase, the caller will claim to be issuing the cardholder a credit and starting a Fraud Investigation. The caller will verify the victim’s address and give them a number to call if they have any questions about the investigation. They’ll include a 6-digit Control Number the caller must refer to if they call with any questions. Then, the caller will ask the victim to verify that they have the card. They’ll ask them to turn the card over and read off the 3 numbers for verification. Once the victim does so, the caller will confirm that those numbers are correct and say they were verifying that the card had not been lost or stolen. The caller then ends the conversation never having asked the victim to verify the card number. They now have the information they need to make unauthorized purchases using the victim’s card.
“Protecting yourself: If someone calls claiming to be from the security department of a credit card company where you have an account, don’t give them any personal information. Tell the caller that you’ll call your credit card company directly in order to verify that what the caller has told you is legitimate.”
Lavelle also explained how some phone scammers will use the threat of uncollected debt to take advantage of you:
“Debt Collector Scam: Scammers will call and say they are attorneys or law enforcement officers collecting on a debt you owe. They may have your bank account information. The scammer may threaten to garnish your wages, with a lawsuit, or with jail time if you don’t pay back your debt. The victim may feel threatened by the caller and will give money or provide the caller with their personal information.
“Protecting yourself: Ask the caller to give you their name, the name; street address; and telephone number of the company they are representing. Tell the caller that you won’t discuss any debt with them until you are provided with a written ‘validation notice’ which should include the debt amount, the creditor’s name, and your rights as stated in the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If the caller will not provide you with this information, hang up! Under no circumstances should you give the caller any money.”
When they aren’t impersonating business people, scammers will also try and take a more personal approach.
“This involves the scammer impersonating a member of the victim’s family and saying that they are in trouble and need money,” warned Lavelle. “In an effort to help a family member, the victim will wire the money to the scammer. In another scenario, the scammer will impersonate a fake charity and convince the victim to send them money as a donation. This scenario is common post natural disasters.
“How to avoid this scam? Do not return a call from an unknown number. If they say they are the IRS and you owe money, they are scammers. The IRS will only contact you by U.S. mail.”
And that’s not the only way that scammers will try to manipulate the elderly through their emotions.
Online dating sucks, but getting scammed on an online dating site sucks much worse.
Dating can be tough in general, so imagine how much more difficult it is for the elderly and single. Here’s one common dating scam to watch out for, courtesy of Lavelle:
“Top Dating Scam Targeting People 55+: One major online dating scam targets older single women. The con artist builds up a rapport with the victim via an online dating website and asks for increasingly large amounts of money to be wired to a foreign address. Then, all of a sudden the scammer disappears with the money. Here are tips to protect yourself:
“It’s a big red flag if your online interest asks you for money, especially if it’s early on and you’ve never met face-to-face. Scammers will often ask for money on behalf of a sick relative or travel money to visit you if he lives out of state.
“Be careful if he avoids meeting you, especially if he says he will be out of the country. There’s a reason that scammers don’t want to meet face-to-face. If they’re running a game, they will come up with all kinds of excuses to avoid meeting. Some may use work travel as an excuse, others may say they have shared custody of his kids and it’s his weekend to keep them, or that an ill mother needs to taken care of. Listen to this relationship advice: Pay close attention to what they’re saying.
“When chatting online, make sure the flow of conversation makes sense to ascertain if you’re talking to a live person or a robot profile. Mix up the conversation; see if the person continues to track with you. If they’re unable to switch gears, it could be a robot responder giving predetermined responses.
“Research as much as you can about the person before you meet face-to-face. Search their name on Google, search all social media profiles and ask friends if they know them. You might find out that the person has a criminal record or may be in a serious relationship and love already!”
The elderly also have to be careful of those who would try and take advantage of their sense of responsibility.
End-of-life planning scams: woof.
Can you imagine something slimier than trying to scam elderly people attempting to navigate their end of life planning? Well, unfortunately, as Melissa McKinney Breyer, an estate planning attorney with The Hive Law informed us, it does indeed happen:
“There are tons of scams targeting the elderly, but the ones I’ve heard most in my line of business are these estate planning events. These scam artists usually have two approaches: selling you a DIY estate planning kit or expensive and unnecessary living trust.
“DIY Estate Planning Kit: In these circumstances, you’ll probably be invited to a seminar with several other elders who are trying to get their estates figured out. The speaker/seller might present themselves as ‘AARP approved’ or something of the like. They’ll teach you about these super simple and cheap kit that you can purchase at a very low price. What they’re trying to do is simply get your financial and payment information. Oftentimes people never even receive a kit in the mail, let alone a follow-up call.
“Living Trust Scam: Then there are the fake professionals trying to scare people into getting a living trust. Living trusts are more expensive than a simple last will and testament but that’s because they’re typically used by those with more assets in need of protection and distribution. Sometimes you’ll talk with a ‘financial planner’ or ‘estate planning attorney’ on the phone that tries to convince you that you’re harming your family if don’t take this route.
“They’ll try feeding you lies about how awful probate court is, how a will can easily be contested, and that your family is bound to have nothing at the end of it all. They use fear to manipulate elders into buying an estate planning device that is totally unnecessary for their needs, and 9 times out of 10, they aren’t even professionals!
“So, What Can You Do? First, meet with a professional in person. Most of these scams start over the phone or other advertising. We always recommend that you have an initial consultation with a professional before signing up for anything.
“Also, ask your friends! Perhaps they’ve been the victim to one of these scams. Or, better yet, maybe they used a reputable estate planning attorney to help them.
“Finally, be wary of anyone that is pressuring you into making a decision right away (especially if it’s over the phone). Real professionals typically don’t pressure clients into making a decision on the spot. Your estate planning is very important and can be a very vulnerable subject. When someone resorts to typical, skeezy sales tactics to get your money or information, that’s definitely a red flag!”
The elderly may be especially vulnerable to scams. But as long as they’re prepared, they can defend themselves!
Justin Lavelle is a Scams Prevention Expert and the Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified.com (@BeenVerified). BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.
Melissa McKinney Breyer is an estate planning attorney with The Hive Law where she helps bring authenticity and sincerity back into the legal profession. Why so popular? Because she and her team provide professional care full of genuine hearts. Oh, and she also loves her French-bulldog, Tater.
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