Modern-day financial scams can be so tricky that you might not realize you have been defrauded until it is too late. One example of a recent financial scam targeting seniors is the medical-alert scam robocalls. Many seniors have been receiving, and complaining about, these prerecorded messages, which tell them that a doctor or relative has signed them up for the medical-alert system. The automatic message then requests personal information, such as credit card numbers, bank information, and/or Social Security numbers, from that senior in order to complete the transaction. If the senior gives over this information, the scammer who set up the call is likely to use that information to access the senior’s financial accounts.
Financial frauds like this are more and more common, and can be very convincing. Today’s seniors have to ward off scams from many different sources, including over the phone, online (especially through email), and in person (often at your own front door). To protect yourself from these tricky modern-day financial scams, educate yourself on the scams that are out there, and follow a few rules of thumb designed to keep you and your money safe.
5 Rules to Help Avoid Financial Scams
1. Never give out personal information over the phone, online, or in person to anyone you don’t know. If you are ever conflicted over whether or not to give out personal and financial information, don’t do it. Instead, ask the person requesting your information for information about them and their company, including names and phone numbers of managers and references. Then do some research, or ask a friend or family member to help you do research, in order to verify the company and its reputation before you give them any personal information.
2. Because it can be scary and overwhelming to make these kinds of decisions quickly, it is helpful to create a “refusal script.” Keep the script by your phone and your front door so that you can read off of it if you are feeling confused about what to say. The script can be very short so that it is easy to remember and quick to read. Write a script that you feel comfortable with and practice it from time to time. A refusal script can be as simple as “I’m sorry. This is not a good time. Thank you for calling/stoping by.” If you suspect an email you have received to be a scam, simply do not respond at all.
3. Sign up for the “Do Not Call List” at www.donotcall.gov, or by calling 888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to add to the list. You can always ask a friend or family member to help you sign up if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself. Once you are on this list, most telemarketers should not call your number. However, signing up will not protect you from illegitimate telemarketing calls, such as the medical-alert scam robocalls. Also important to know is that recently, scammers have been calling people claiming to represent the National Do Not Call Registry. The registry will not call you, you must call them or go to their website to sign up.
4. Wait at least 24 hours after a sales pitch before making a decision about purchasing anything. This gives you time to think about the decision, do some research, and make a thoughtful and educated choice about whether or not the the purchase or transaction is right for you.
5. If it is too good to be true, it probably is. Be very wary of any offers of free stuff, such as free lunch or dinner seminars. Also, if someone is offering to help you make a lot of money in a short amount of time, it is probably a scam. Be very wary of any emails that claim “Free money!” or “There is no risk!” or that use the phrases “I’m the Legal Representative for (someone you’ve never heard of)” or “We’re Holding Money for You.”
The Better Business Bureau keeps track of financial scams around the country. You can look at the list of scams by visiting www.bbb.org/us/scams. Here, you can also check out a business or charity that may have recently called you asking for money or financial information. Additionally, if you become aware of a scam, you can use this site to report it so that others can learn about it and protect themselves against it.
Also, know the profile of scammers and those they target. Scammers are most often men. Financial scams tend to target more women than men, and tend to target people who are in their 80s or older, live alone, and need some help to maintain their independence.
Lastly, know that anyone can fall victim to financial frauds, no matter their age or education. It is important to pay attention to the different types of scams out there so that you are on alert, and to tell your friends and family what to look out for and what to do if they are confronted with a possible scam. And if you do discover you have been a victim of a scam, don’t’ be ashamed–tell someone you trust so you can take the next steps to protect yourself.
For more information, check out WISER’s Financial Elder Abuse Resources page, and our Scams and Fraud resource page.