How to Avoid Scams that Target the Elderly

by Alberta Ellison

Being the savvy person you are there is no chance in the world that you will be conned by someone. Hopefully you are right in your assessment, but probably not. There are literally thousands of scams out there that target the elderly.

You probably think that you know how to avoid being scammed. Do you give out information to people who call on the telephone, accept help from contractors who knock on your door, and accept unsolicited offers that come in the mail or on the internet to your mailbox? If you said ‘yes’ to any of these, you can become a victim of a scam.

Scammers know every possible line to get your attention. One of their best is to offer you a deal. Get 10% interest or more on the money you invest with them, cash a check for $1,000 and send them $750 (you keep the rest), or to donate to a special unknown charity.
The best way that a scammer can prey on you is to make you think that you can increase your money. They know that most senior citizens are living on a limited budget, usually have a small amount of money set aside in the bank or have money market certificates, and, most importantly, they know that you are worried that you will not have enough money. The scammer thrives on a person’s fear of the future and their concerns that they may live longer than their money will last.

We can go back to the phrase that our parents told us “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Scam artists have been around since the beginning of time and there are many people out there who fall for their stories and are easily parted from their money.

What are some of the most current scams out there today? We will name a few here that you should immediately avoid.

First, there is the offer to invest your money and to get a much higher interest rate than is being offered by local financial institutions. This alone should trigger alarms in your head. Any offer to give you a guaranteed higher interest rate should be watched carefully because in most instances your money will be lost—these offers come with no government backing or guarantees. You lose and lose big.

Second, there are the contractors that come around and offer to help with needed repairs on your home. They offer a great deal, they are very polite and thoughtful, and they appear to have all of the proper paperwork as a licensed contract. These people prey on the elderly and once they have you sign a contractor, they usually want their money ‘up front’ – then, you never see them again. Your money is gone and the repairs still need to be completed.

Third, there are mailbox (and internet) offers. Just cash this check for ‘x’ amount, mail us a check for 75% and you get to keep 25% of the money for your trouble. This is the key word “trouble’ because you have been ripped off. The original check they sent you is a fake and now you are out the entire amount of the check.

Fourth, there are the sweepstakes. You are notified that you have won “x” amount of money but before they can release the funds, they require a disbursement fee be sent. You have won anything! Again, this is just another way to steal your money.

It is so easy to be scammed, especially when there are so many different ways for these criminals to convince you that they can help. Never be pressured to make a quick decision because it will usually be the wrong one. Know what to watch for, be proactive and guard your money!

Ms. Ellison retired from the Government Accountability Office after 37 years of service. A graduate of George Mason University, she devoted the majority of her career to working with senior level auditors from around the world who came to participate in GAO 's International Auditor Training Program. In retirement she is enjoying traveling, writing and spending time with her family.