One day you are enjoying a cup of tea at home and the phone rings.

“Hello Grandma, it’s your grandson calling. I’ve been traveling and I lost my wallet and passport. Could you send me some money?” The voice is a bit muffled, and you can’t tell which grandson is calling, but you might offend him if you ask. Every caring grandmother would instantly want to help their grandson out of trouble, so you ask him where to send the money too. Unfortunately, the caller is not your grandson, but a scam artist targeting seniors to steal your money. They prey on your caring nature. 

Right now in Canada, people are getting calls, supposedly from Canada Revenue Agency, saying they owe money for unpaid taxes, and are being threatened with jail time if they don’t send money or pre-loaded gift cards. This is certainly a scam. (First tip: We are certain the CRA and the IRS do not accept gift cards as payment for unpaid taxes.)

Calls like this are happening all the time robbing people of their hard earned money. The frequency of fraudulent transactions are increasing at an alarming rate. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s latest Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) Report on complaints made about fraud, in 2014 alone, Americans lost over $1.7 billion to scams. The actual number is probably much higher since many victims of fraud don’t report it.

Unfortunately, seniors are often deliberate targets of scams and fraudulent telemarketers. There are many reasons that scammers target seniors, making them vulnerable to fraud.

Why scammers target seniors:

  • Older adults have worked and saved for a long time, and many of them are financially more secure than the younger population. They have savings, own their homes and have great credit ratings. This means they have access to funds.
  • Older seniors were raised in an era when they were taught to be polite and trusting. Most seniors have a hard time saying no, or hanging up on someone, as they don’t want to appear rude.
  • Senior Americans who have been scammed are often too embarrassed to report the crime. They worry that “falling for it” or being a victim of fraud might convince relatives that they no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own finances, and might lose their independence.
  • Aging can have an effect on memory, so when elderly victims do report crimes, they may struggle to remember details, making it difficult for officials to investigate. Often, people don’t realize they’ve been scammed until months later, making it even more difficult to remember and report specific details.
  • Unlike younger generations, seniors still have home phones with listed phone numbers, and they answer the phone when it rings.

With the advent of technology and social media, criminals have developed so many ways to scam Americans and Canadians. In 2014, there were over 2.5 million complaints of fraud made to the FTC. As per their CSN report, the Top 6 Complaint Categories were:

  1. Identify theft
  2. Debt collection
  3. Imposter scams
  4. Telephone and mobile services
  5. Banks and Lenders
  6. Prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries

According to the FBI, common fraud schemes that specifically target seniors are:

  • Healthcare or Health Insurance Fraud (includes Medicare and Counterfeit prescription drug scams)
  • Telemarketing Fraud
  • Internet fraud
  • Funeral and Cemetery Fraud
  • Fraudulent “Anti-Aging” Products
  • Investment Schemes
  • Reverse mortgage scams

10 tips to prevent being a victim of fraud:

  1. My mother always told me, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Con artists thrive on our desire for quick fixes, miracle cures, and easy money. By offering free products or services, hard to resist bargain prices or big prizes, they lure people into signing up for something they don’t want and convince them to pay a fee for shipping or transaction fees. These are most often scams, where they take your “fee” and do not provide the product, service or prize that was promised. TIP: Ask to receive all offers or prize details in writing, so you can read it over before making any commitments, signing or agreeing to anything. Get a second opinion from someone you trust.
  2. It is okay to say “No, thank you” “Not right now” or “Let me think about it.” Legitimate companies and organizations will understand if you request information in writing or want time to do research. TIP: If you are feeling pressured to sign something or make a payment, hang up or walk away.
  3. Do not release any banking or credit card information, social security numbers, insurance or Medicare numbers over the phone or internet to unsolicited callers or emails. Again legitimate companies will understand your diligence. TIP: Only share personal and financial information with familiar companies that you have contacted and researched.
  4. Beware of charmers or official sounding callers. Scammers are smart and know that many people can be convinced to hand over money or information if they seem official or are really nice. Banks, police officers or government officials will never require you to pay them over the phone or at the door. If someone tells you that you owe money, tell them you will check your records and contact the offices directly. TIP: Go to official buildings to make any payments or contact the organization yourself to confirm money owed.
  5. Representatives or repair people will always notify you ahead of time if they are sending someone to your home. If any stranger knocks on your door, err on the side of caution. If you aren’t expecting anyone, you don’t have to open the door. Ask them to come back at a later time, and make sure you are not alone when they do. If you are expecting someone, you should still ask them to show ID. It is okay to ask them to wait outside, while you call the company they are from to confirm whether they have sent someone. This even applies to the police. TIP: Do not allow unknown or unexpected people into your home.
  6. Take time to read the fine print. Many people don’t read the terms and conditions and this could land you in trouble, or commit you to something you don’t want. There was an experiment done in London a couple of years ago, where people agreed to the terms and conditions to get free Wi-Fi, without reading it, not realizing they had signed away their first born child. Read that article here.  TIP: Never sign any piece of paper, if you don’t fully understand what you are signing.
  7. Check the legitimacy of any company‚ organization‚ contest or person who is asking you for information or money‚ before signing up or paying for anything. Make sure they are registered and or licensed locally. You can check with the Better Business Bureau if there have been previous complaints. Most legitimate companies will have a website, an address, and hopefully some customer reviews, but beware that even that information can be faked. When it doubt ask around. If you are on social media like Facebook, ask your friends and family if they know the company. TIP: Make sure you know who you are giving your money or information too, and if they are trustworthy.
  8. Be an informed consumer. Take time to shop around, compare pricing and quality. Ask lots of questions, and double check information that a sales person is telling you. TIP: Do your research before purchasing. Make sure you are getting what you want and need. 
  9. Never wire transfer money to anyone you don’t know. Wire transfers are near impossible to trace, track or reverse. It’s like sending cash which makes it one of the best ways for Con artist to get away with their scams. Of all the money lost to scammers in 2014, 30% of it was sent through wire transfers. Another 30% of consumers paid scammers with pre-paid gift cards. TIP: If someone asked you to pay them via a method that is untraceable and non-refundable, be suspicious and do not pay.
  10. If you find you have been a victim of fraud‚ report it to the police. Too often‚ fraud does not get reported because people are embarrassed that they “fell for it” or “should’ve known better”. The truth is fraudsters are good at what they do‚ and if you fell victim to their extremely convincing techniques‚ you did nothing wrong. If you report it‚ you might have a small chance of recovering lost funds and perhaps you can save someone else from similar crimes. Also, if you believe someone has gained access to sensitive information, notify your financial institutions to see what can be done to protect you. There are watchdog organizations that you can report to as well, like the FTC,  or  TIP: If you have been a victim of fraud‚ report it to the police, your financial institutions, and other watchdog organizations.

Stay safe and watch out for your loved ones too. Have you or someone you know been a victim of fraud? Have you received a call from scammers, but thwarted their efforts? Share your tips and stories? Your comment may help someone avoid being scammed. As always thank you for reading.

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