Avoiding Senior Citizen Scams

Avoiding senior citizen scams

Americans are 70 times more likely to be a victim of identity theft than of a violent crime. Among 8 million such victims per year, Illinois received 10,000 complaints during 2010. The good news is that Illinois laws against identity theft are probably the toughest in the U.S.

The Better Business Bureau warns against the following six scams that commonly target senior citizens:

  • Grandparent scam: victims receive a phone call from someone claiming to be a family member stranded far from home. They usually beg to have the matter kept private and say they are being held in jail, need car repairs or other assistance and money has to be wired to them immediately. These scammers may lace the conversation with correct references to other family members, increasing their credibility.

  • Advice: Remain calm and confirm the identity of the individual by calling him or her directly or verifying the story with other family members before taking any further action. Never provide scammers with information they can use against you. For instance, don't venture a name when an unknown caller says, `It's your grandson!' Instead, make them "fill in the blanks."

  • Sweepstakes/lottery scams: Typically, the victim receives a letter in the mail stating they have won a lottery or sweepstakes. The letter instructs the victim to deposit an enclosed check and then wire a portion back to cover taxes, insurance or administrative fees. While these checks clear initially, the money will be removed when the bank discovers the check is phony. The victim is out whatever they wired back to the scammers - often thousands of dollars. These scams are also attempted over the phone. Remember, you can't win a contest you didn't enter, and if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

  • Advice: Never wire money to someone you don't know. You should never have to pay a fee to collect winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes. Also, participation I a foreign lottery over the phone or through the mail is illegal.

  • Medicare scams: Scammers often claim to be with Medicare and ask for personal information such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers. Potential victims might be given any number of excuses to provide this information including that an error needs to be fixed, that he or she is part of a survey or eligible to receive free products or can sign up for a new prescription drug plan.

  • Advice: Medicare will never call to ask for sensitive personal financial information. If you suspect fraud, contact your local police or the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General at (800)477-8477.

  • Bereavement scams: Scammers will try to take advantage of seniors who have recently lost a loved one, such as a spouse. They call the widow or widower and claim that their spouse had outstanding debts that need to be paid immediately.

  • Advice: If you are uncertain about owing a debt when collectors call, always ask for written confirmation. Don't be intimidated by unknowing callers or letters claiming a debt is owed. Be aware of your rights under the Fair Dept Collection Practices Act.

  • Deceptive professionals: Some scammers knock on the door, claiming to be experts in their fields. These so-called professionals will lie about the extent of problems with your home or furnace, and then inflate prices in an attempt to profit off trusting seniors.

  • Advice: Find professionals you can trust by researching them at bbb.org. Report any deceptive offers to your BBB, local law enforcement and the state Attorney General.

  • Investment opportunities: These schemes promise big returns but offer few details.

  • Advice: Beware of investment or money-making offers that seem too good to be true or use high pressure sales tactics. If you have questions about any offers you receive, contact the BBB at (800) 646-6222.

For more advice on avoiding scams visit : bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-scams/.