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Why do so many scammers target seniors?

Posted on June 1, 2017

According to the FBI, senior citizens make particularly good targets for con artists because they’re likely to own their home, and have savings and excellent credit. Because seniors are generally trusting and polite, yet unsure about changing laws and regulations, they may be easier to fool than younger targets.

At Teipen Selanders Poynter & Ayres, we want to be sure scammers don’t successfully target you, no matter what your age. Here’s what to watch for and how to protect yourself and the senior folks in your lives.

Some popular scams that target seniors:

  • A young person will call “Grandma” or “Grandpa” saying they are stuck traveling and need emergency money sent to them. Often they say they need to get bailed out of jail or need to have an inexpensive car repair in another state. They may wait for you to ask, “Is this (grandchild’s name)?” before answering, or pretend to be ill if the senior senses their voice is unfamiliar. Scammers often already know the names of your family members from your Facebook posts.
  • A scammer might call posing as a Medicare or health insurance representative, asking for personal information such as your social security number or bank account info. Never give this out over the phone or via email or other social media.
  • Impersonating an IRS representative is another favorite ploy. The caller will threaten the call recipient, saying the last federal tax return they filed was incorrect and demanding the senior pay up immediately to avoid fines and penalties.

Each of these scenarios is happening to hundreds of middle aged and older folks every day. Don’t fall for these scams. Know that Medicare or the IRS will NEVER call to demand payments or threaten you. All initial insurance, Medicare or IRS contact will be in the form of a letter. Always. Pass the word.

If you think something is fishy about a call you or someone you know receives, trust your instincts. Ask for a call back number or say you will have your attorney, CPA, family member, or representative return or report the call. Hang up and report the problem to the IRS or police. If you believe you have been financially compromised, call your bank to freeze your account.

Of course, the best way to protect yourself and loved ones is to keep any scams from happening in the first place.

Here’s what to do to minimize the chance of a scam:

  • IRS scams don’t just happen only during tax filing season. They are prevalent in the months following tax filing as well. Visit the IRS.gov website for an up to date list of the “Dirty Dozen,” twelve of the most successful tax scams and how to protect yourself:  https://www.irs.gov/uac/newsroom/protect-yourself-from-the-dirty-dozen-tax-scams
  • If you use social media, be careful about what personal or family information you share. Limit viewing of your information to people you know. Never post vacation photos while you are gone.
  • Set up a code phrase or key word with your children and grandchildren, should they need to contact you for help. If you suspect you are being targeted by a fake family member, ask specific questions. Make a note of the phone number, hang up and contact police.
  • Reduce telemarketing calls by getting on the National Do Not Call Registry list. Go to donotcall.gov to add your name or call 888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register
  • Opt-out of mail and credit card company solicitations. Go to optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688
  • Remove your name from national advertising lists. Register at http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist/#regform for $5 – well worth the cost.
  • Get a free copy of your credit report from all three major reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) annually by calling 877-322-8288 or visit annualcreditreport.com.
  • Before getting work or services performed on or in your home, check with the Better Business Bureau to see whether the business has had complaints filed against it.

Stay vigilant and know the signs of a scam call or email. Don’t let scammers take advantage of you – no matter what your age!