Senior citizens are commonly targeted by con artists and other fraud schemers. To help combat this problem, the FBI offers many tips for seniors to protect against telemarketing fraud, Medicare scams and other common schemes. Below is FBI material on senior fraud—to find out more, visit www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors.
Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” own their home, and/or have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
Older Americans are less likely to report fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think they no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
When an elderly victim does report a crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory and count on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or, more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.
If you are 60 or older—especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products and inexpensive vacations.
It’s very difficult to get your money back if you’ve been cheated over the telephone. Before you buy anything by telephone, remember:
• Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company. Legitimate businesses understand that you will want more information about their company and are happy to comply.
• Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review them. But, unfortunately, beware—not everything written down is true.
• Obtain a salesperson’s name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address and business license number before you transact business. Some con artists give out false names, telephone numbers, addresses and business license numbers—verify the accuracy of these items.
• Before you give money to a charity or make an investment, find out what percentage of the money is paid in commissions and what percentage actually goes to the charity or investment.
• Don’t pay in advance for services. Pay for services only after they are delivered.
• Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won’t pressure you to make a snap decision.
• Don’t pay for a “free” prize. If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
• Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
• If you have been victimized once, be wary of persons who call offering to help you recover your losses for a fee paid in advance.
If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local or federal law enforcement agencies.
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