How Scammers Swindle Seniors
When the FINRA Investor Education Foundation conducted a survey on Americans' exposure to financial scams in 2012, the results were disheartening: "More than 8 in 10 respondents were solicited to participate in a potentially fraudulent offer. And 11 percent of all respondents lost a significant amount of money after engaging with an offer."
The news was grimmest for Americans 65 and older, who were found to be "more likely to be targeted by fraudsters and more likely to lose money once targeted." A separate survey conducted in 2010 by the Investor Protection Trust found that one in every five U.S. senior citizens has "been taken advantage of financially in terms of inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or outright fraud." And ripping off the elderly is not slowing down: according to a statement prepared for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June 2013 by Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "The amount of money stolen from seniors has risen sharply in recent years."
The FBI lists several factors that make older people attractive targets for fraudsters and scammers: the likelihood that they own their home, have money saved and possess good credit; the possibility that they will refrain from reporting a fraud out of fear for their independence; and the purported fact that "people who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting."
Scammers reportedly use many of the same tried-and-true approaches to con their victims, relying on people's lack of familiarity with common techniques of deception and fraud. Here are some of the tricks that are said to fill the cozener's playbook, according to The National Council on Aging .
1. Health care fraud
It's a safe bet that a given senior citizen is on Medicare, which makes the program an easy in for identity thieves and scam artists. "Perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information," the NCOA warns, "or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money."
2. Counterfeit prescription drugs
The expense of Rx medication drives many people to the Internet, where they search for lower prices on the specialized drugs that tend to cost the most. Enter unscrupulous distributors who substitute dummy substances for pricey pharmaceuticals, potentially endangering the health of their marks. The FBI advises, "Reputable online pharmacies will have a seal of approval called the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS), provided by the Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the United States." Patients are also warned to be wary of "special deals," which could be the sign of a counterfeit product.