Five Scams Targeting Seniors. BBB Advice to Avoid Falling Victim

August 24, 2010

Fraud targeting senior citizens is a growing concern. Despite heeded warnings, millions from this vulnerable group have taken the bait from scammers. If you’re worried about an older parent or friend of the family, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) encourages you to recognize some common cons targeting senior citizens and to keep the lines of communication open regarding finances.

According to a June 2010 survey by Investor Protection Trust, more than 7.3 million senior citizens - roughly 20 percent of Americans aged 65 or older - have “been taken advantage of financially in terms of an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or outright fraud.”

Having a serious conversation with your elderly parents about how they are managing their money is not easy and the discussion becomes even more difficult if they’re a family friend, but it is extremely important in order to help protect them from unscrupulous crooks,” said David Polino, Better Business Bureau President. “Keeping the lines of communication open is critical to help you identify suspicious spending habits and educating them to recognize red flags of common cons on their own will help you rest easier too.”

BBB warns against the following five scams that commonly target senior citizens:

#1 - Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams –Typically, the victim receives a letter in the mail stating they have won a lottery or sweepstakes; it might even claim to be from Publisher’s Clearing House or Reader’s Digest. The letter instructs the victim to deposit an enclosed check and then wire a portion back to the company to cover taxes or administration fees. While the funds will initially show up in the bank account, the money will be removed when the bank determines the check is fake. The victim is out whatever they wired back to the scammers—often amounting to thousands of dollars.

· BBB Advice: Never wire money to someone you don’t know. You should never have to send money to receive any winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes.

#2 - Medicare Scams – Navigating the Medicare system isn’t easy and some scammers will look for any opportunity to take advantage of the confusion. Commonly, a scammer will claim to be with Medicare and ask for personal information such as Medicare, Medicaid, social security, credit card or bank account numbers. The victim might be given any number of excuses to provide this information including that an error needs to be fixed, that he or she is part of a survey or eligible to receive free products or can sign up for a new prescription drug plan.

  • BBB Advice: Remind your elderly family members that Medicare will never call to ask for sensitive personal financial information. If you suspect fraud contact your local police or the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General at 800-HHS-TIPS. If your elder has a question tell them it’s better to initiate the call themselves as well.

# 3 - Bereavement Scams – Scammers will often try to take advantage of the increased vulnerability of senior citizens who have recently lost a loved one, such as a spouse. In one recent example, a mother and daughter team in Ohio would find targets by scouring the obituaries. They would then call the widow or widower and claim that their spouse had outstanding debts that needed to be paid immediately. Victims would then provide a blank check or credit card.

  • BBB Advice: Offer help to elderly family members if they have recently lost a loved one and are inexperienced in managing finances. If you are uncertain about owing a debt when collectors call, ask for written confirmation before a payment is made.

#4 - Deceptive Professionals – While many scams targeting senior citizens might not have a face, some scammers will be unknowingly invited right into the front door. Services like technicians, home improvement contractors, chimney sweeps, air duct cleaners and others can be suspect if the business has not been contacted by the senior themselves or fully researched before they’re called. Some professionals will lie about the extent of the problem or claim safety issues and then inflate prices for unsuspecting senior customers.

# 5 - Investment and Work at Home Opportunities - Promises of easy money often target older adults because they may be looking to supplement their income. The pitch might come in the form of an investment opportunity that promises big returns, or as a way to make money at home for an upfront cost. Regardless of the specifics, the victim is offered what sounds like a great opportunity but the extra income never materializes.

  • BBB Advice: Always research any work at home opportunity with BBB. Beware of investment or money-making offers that seem too good to be true or use high pressure sales tactics to get you to sign up immediately.

For more advice on avoiding scams and fraud visit:

To schedule an interview with a BBB spokesperson, please contact Peggy Penders at 800-303-4490.