Elder fraud has become an epidemic among senior citizens, and as unfortunate as it may be, scam artists view your elderly parents as easy targets. Since elder fraud often goes unreported, the exact figures are unknown, but it is estimated that over $40 billion is stolen from senior citizens in the U.S. each year. While law enforcement is making strides in protecting against elder fraud, it is difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice since their trail usually leads to a dead end as schemers move on to the next fraud. It is important for caregivers to help their elderly loved ones protect themselves against fraud. The following list provides an outline of what the elderly should do to avoid becoming victims of fraud.
Stay away from sending money and providing personal financial information:. Elders should be wary about disclosing their bank information, credit card information and social security numbers. A common scam occurs when the elderly receive a check for a considerable amount of money, accompanied by directions instructing the recipient to call a phone number which prompts them to send in taxes on the money they have just received. Once the wire transfer has been received, the check the elderly received bounces. If your parents are not expecting a large sum of money, receiving one should be a red flag.
Review documents thoroughly before signing them. Many con artists pose as door-to-door salesman and try to sell your loved one multiple products with a lot of paperwork that has to be signed right away to secure the 'special' offer. These 'salesman' are especially dangerous since they provide a face to the product, making them appear more trustworthy. One of the most important things elders can do to avoid being conned is to not allow anyone into their home that they do not know.
Limit phone interaction with people you don't know. Scammers target elderly individuals because they know they are more likely to talk at length over the phone than any other generation. Make sure your parents know that they should not answer extensive questions over the phone.
Use well-known contractors for construction. If your parents are looking to do construction in their home, or make home improvements, it is important that they request references and consult the Better Business Bureau or the National Fraud Information Center. Make sure your parents sign a contract, and if the contractor wants all the money up front, let them know they should find a different contractor.
Shred all documents containing personal information. Before throwing out bills or any information regarding your loved one's financial information, you should shred the documents. Con artists often go through discarded mail to find bank account and credit card numbers, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and more. Remind your loved ones to destroy this information.
Steer Clear of health insurance scams. Lower income seniors often rely on their Medicare health insurance, which can lead to elder fraud. Unfortunately, shoddy 'medical equipment companies' target seniors for their Medicare numbers in exchange for free equipment. Be sure to forewarn your loved ones that their doctor must order and sign for all equipment in order for it to be covered by Medicare. Make sure your loved one knows not to give out their Medicare number to someone they do not know, that they always review their Medicare payments closely and that they verify ordered equipment with their physicians.
Avoid signing up for sweepstakes. Seniors often sign up for sweepstakes, apply for free magazine subscriptions and enter contests by mail. Companies who engage in elder fraud keep records of these submissions and give out the information of susceptible elders, making your parents a higher target. They also keep track of who has been successfully scammed in the past.
If your elderly loved one has already been a target of elder fraud, make sure they report it. Seniors are often embarrassed to report elder fraud and thus these crimes often go unreported. The best way to avoid elder fraud is to educate yourself and your loved ones on common scams, and to use caution in all transactions and investments they make.