Scammers love targeting the elderly and—in case you hadn't heard—Florida is quite a popular destination for retirees.
Florida: America’s Cabinet of Mystery! It has everything: swamps and alligators and Disney World and ska music. But did you know there are also, like, a lot of scams?
The Sunshine State ranks number one in fraud complaints according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Over 208,000 consumers reported $54.7 million in losses due to fraud in 2017. Not $54.7 million each, obviously, but that’s still a lot!
But what kinds of scams ran wild and who was targeted? Plus, what can you do to protect yourself? We spoke to the experts to find out.
America’s retirement home.
Florida has a reputation as a place where retirees go to spend their golden years. And why not? It’s warm, it has golf, and there are any number of phones for your grandkids to call you on. Some of those grandkids might even be bartenders in Miami—well within visiting range!
Unfortunately, con artists love targeting the elderly for their various scams, which is one reason why Florida has so many potential targets.
According to a survey from senior care provider Home Instead:
- More than two-thirds of seniors (67%) have been the victim or target of at least one common scam or hack.
- More than a third of seniors (38%) say someone has tried to scam them online, and 28% have downloaded a computer virus.
- Approximately one in 10 seniors (9%) reported being the victim of a scam in which someone posing as an IRS official called them and demanded immediate payment of taxes.
- Another five percent of U.S. seniors report being contacted by criminals claiming they had won a prize, such as the lottery, demanding immediate payment of taxes on the winnings.
With so many seniors being targeted by scammers, it makes sense that Florida’s rates are so much higher than the average state. More targets mean more scams.
Medicare fraud is a very popular scam.
Scams have existed as long as there has been money to be scammed. But the advent of the telephone meant you could scam people faster than ever before! And whether you’re a senior citizen or anyone younger than that, it’s important to know what sort of scam calls you or your elder loves ones might be getting.
“Currently, the number one telephone scam is out of the blue calls for back braces,” warned Florida consumer protection attorney Donald E. Peterson. “The scam is a fraud against the Medicare (and/or Medicaid) program. The caller ‘qualifies’ a lead and has a licensed physician write the script based upon the applicant’s statements. Medicare pays out. By the time the fraud investigators arrive, the principals have firehosed substantial funds to their accounts and/or set up a new operation long ago.
“These sorts of scams are well established in ethnic communities because of the language barriers and degree of trust in the doctors. Telemarketing back braces is simply a different product than the go-to device—power wheelchairs—because HCFA dedicated the resources to get on top of those particular claims.”
Some sketchy “scam” calls aren’t technically scams.
But not every phone scam is a scam in the traditional sense, as Peterson explained to us:
“In my consumer law practice, most of the calls that people perceive as calls from ‘scammers’ are callers that really are marketing a product—a ‘free’ cruise, timeshare vacation, and even health insurance—although the callers typically (if not always) violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (‘TCPA’) and other telemarketing laws.
“Whether the product is a ‘scam’ or not, most of these callers use pre-recorded messages when the TCPA prohibits the caller from doing so. Many telephone solicitation calls are worth pursuing. Many callers also fail to scrub their solicitation lists for cell phones and violate the TCPA by using pre-recorded messages or robo-dialers when they call the cell phone. Many of these companies also ignore the national Do Not Call registry.”
Here’s how to fight back against phone scammers.
But you aren’t helpless in the face of phone scammers and sketchy salesmen! There are some simple actions you can take to push back against them.
“If the consumer plays along until the consumer obtains the caller’s company name and address, the consumer can take action,” Peterson advised. “If the scam is targeting Medicare or Medicaid, the consumer can report the scam to the federal government and/or their state attorney general. If the calls do not involve the federal health insurance programs, consumers should consult with an experienced TCPA lawyer.”
And lastly, who could forget about good ol’ timeshare scams?
People want to spend time in Florida. And there are timeshare companies that want to take advantage of that desire. Thankfully, there are people willing to help protect your interests.
Here’s some advice from writer and Timeshare Crusader Lisa Ann Schreier:
Timesharing can be a great way to vacation for some people. The important thing is to know what you’re getting into and avoiding being scammed.
Many visitors to Florida find themselves facing a timeshare salesperson for what is usually promised to be a two-hour ‘overview’ or ‘preview’ but which turns into a much longer, high-pressure sales pitch.
There are some clear warning signs to indicate you may be about to be scammed:
- The staff doesn’t just look at your ID and/or credit card to check you in, but insists on making copies of them or worse, they hold them.
- You don’t get full and complete answers to your questions. As the saying goes, ‘those with nothing to hide, hide nothing.’
- The salesperson ‘spins the truth’ or intentionally tries to make the timeshare sound better than it actually is.
- You’re made to feel guilty for not buying whatever they’re selling.
In talking with thousands of consumers over the past 18 years dealing with timeshare issues, two things stand out that could have prevented them from being scammed: They didn’t pay attention to their gut feeling and they relinquished their power to the sales staff. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
- If you were promised a two-hour presentation, tell the salesperson at the onset that you’ll be leaving after two hours and stick to that.
- If you decide that you’d like to purchase the timeshare, don’t sign anything that day. Sleep on it. No matter what they say, they will not turn down your money the following day.
- Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. The salesperson is just that, not a friend. Also remember that while the property may be beautiful, most timeshares are in perpetuity. You may not want such beauty forever.
- Don’t use an electronic device such as a tablet to sign anything. I’m hearing about an alarming number of older, less tech savvy consumers who didn’t realize what they were signing until it was too late.
Remember that you, as the consumer, holds ALL of the power. Unless or until you open your wallet, nothing is happening. Enjoy your Florida vacation!
Whether you’re vacationing or living there, Florida can be a wonderful place. Sure, Florida residents have to watch out for scammers. Just take the advice laid out in this article, keep your wits about you, and you can enjoy the warmth un-scammed.
Donald Petersen is an Orlando, Florida trial lawyer who represents consumers against companies who violate their rights under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act and other consumer protection laws.
Lisa Ann Schreier (@LisaLooksAt) has been involved in the timeshare community since 1998. Seeking to be a catalyst for positive change, she wrote ‘Surviving A Timeshare Presentation…Confessions From The Sales Table’ and ‘Timeshare Vacations For Dummies.’ In addition to her articles at Senior.com, she is the lead timeshare advocate at Elliott.org and a featured blogger on RockStarFinance.com. Her ‘tell it like it is’ blog The Timeshare Crusader is a source of solid information and continues to alert consumers to the myriad of less than reputable companies and practices.
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