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Beware of Scams that Target Seniors

By Nancy Kennedy


Anyone can be a victim of a scam, but older adults are increasingly targeted. Scammers often believe that seniors have substantial amounts of money, and seniors tend to be trusting and courteous with strangers. Internet scams are especially common, as many Internet scammers see seniors as “easy prey” who are not proficient with technology, and therefore more easily fooled. This vulnerability to fraud means that seniors need to educate themselves about the common types of scams, and practice self-protective behaviors that will keep them and their savings accounts safe.

There are many variations of scams, but some of the more common ones directed at seniors are based on healthcare needs and Medicare. A scammer may call or email the senior and inform them that they have qualified for free medical equipment such as a back brace. In order to receive their free brace, they are told to provide their Medicare ID number – which is essentially your Social Security number. Once they have that, the scammers can wreak havoc on your finances, even stealing your identity.

Prescription drug prices are a common concern for seniors, and many scams exploit this – they may offer their victim a reduced cost for their medications, as a ploy to obtain personal information. A recent telephone scam in Western Pennsylvania involved callers who claimed to be from Social Security, but Carol A. Brackett, LSW, Prevention Division Chief at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Area Agency on Aging, says that the Social Security Administration as well as the Internal Revenue Service communicate with citizens by mail. “Never give personal information over the phone,” she advises, “especially when you did not make the call. If someone is making you uncomfortable, simply hang up.”
             
Some scammers will come to the person’s home, claiming to be a representative of a utility or security system company. They may try to enter the home, or ask to use the powder room. They may try to sell you a new electricity provider plan or something of that nature. Technical support scams are also very common and very dangerous. These scams send a false notice about a virus or computer problem and tell you that you must respond immediately by clicking on a link; or, they claim to be “tech support” calling to help you. Other scams take advantage of relationships. The “grandchild emergency” scam is one in which a young person calls and claims to be the senior’s grandchild, who has suddenly run into a crisis such as being stranded in a foreign country, and needs to have large amounts of money wired to them.

Unfortunately, scammers can be smart and creative in their efforts to defraud vulnerable people. The best way to protect yourself, Carol Brackett says, is to follow these guidelines:

  • Never provide personal information, account numbers or your Social Security number to anyone over the phone
  • Do not answer the door if you don’t know who is knocking; teach your family and friends to call you before coming over
  • Do not accept offers of “free” medical equipment
  • If a utility company representative comes to your home, ask for ID and look for their marked vehicle; if you are still not confident, call the utility company for confirmation
  • Never accept any “free” gifts, whether its equipment or a cruise that you’ve supposedly won
  • If you have an older adult in your home, consider having a video doorbell system installed to improve your home security

Generally speaking, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your intuition, and don’t take chances. If you believe that you have been a victim of a scam, notify the police – scamming is a serious crime and can have severe consequences. Americans lose $36 billion every year to these fraudulent schemes, and it is often difficult to find and prosecute the perpetrators.

Pennsylvanians should report scams to the Office of the Attorney General at
1-800-441-2555, email us at scams@attorneygeneral.gov or file a consumer complaint online.

Reporting scams can also be done through the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271.

Allegheny County Senior Centers often have programs about protecting yourself from scammers and identity thieves.

To contact Carol Brackett, call (412) 350-4241.



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