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Fighting scams and scoundrels

By Dr. Don Taylor ·
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Posted: 2 pm ET

My recent blog post about the Grandparent scam involving the arrest of a group in the Philadelphia area elicited quite a few readers comments. Some people explained how they avoided the scam, while others shared how they were a victim or knew someone who was.

© Miriam Doerr/

One person commented that the post was insulting to seniors. That certainly wasn't my intent. Anyone can be a victim of fraud: Witness the victims of the Madoff investment scheme. This blog is posted in Bankrate's Senior Living channel, so the focus is on seniors.

Last year financial services firm USAA investigated more than 200 cases of elder fraud -- just among its members. If, as estimated, only one in 44 cases of elder fraud is reported, then you can bootstrap that number to 8,800 of its members being fraud victims.

The company points out that there are financial factors that make seniors more attractive targets. They are more likely to:

  • own a home;
  • possess valuable items;
  • have substantial savings, and
  • have an established credit rating.

Here's my take on USAA's tips on how to avoid elder fraud:

Don't get rushed into anything in a phone call. Get the details on the caller, the company and what they're offering. Don't commit to anything in an initial call. A quick Google search can often help you determine if an offer is a scam.

Don't pay to play. When you receive unsolicited sweepstakes or lottery offers in the mail that ask you to pay a fee to enter, that's a red flag that something's not right. While it's illegal to use the U.S. mail to commit a crime, your best protection is to avoid the contest versus trying to recover the fee.

Beware Medicare shenanigans. Identity thieves can target Medicare patients by offering them free medical products in exchange for their Medicare number. Review your medical bills for products or services you didn't get -- because someone else may be using that number. Beyond that, the danger is in the ID thief changing your medical information into his or her medical information, altering your age, blood type or drug allergies.

Know your charity. Don't let a fake charity with a name close to a real charity take your hard-earned money instead of your charitable contribution going to a good cause. Ask for a link to the charity's annual report or for a statement about how your contributions will be used before making a donation.

Watch for inheritance scams. Don't pay up or provide personal information over the phone or Internet to receive an inheritance. If the inheritance is really yours, it won't come with these strings. When in doubt, get a second opinion from a friend or family member when you're contacted about an inheritance.

Be careful on the Web. Online dating has its own set of problems with scammers and scoundrels. They try to win your affection only to use or disappear with your wealth. Opening your wallet to a new love won't cement the relationship, but it may clean you out.

Other tips: I'm a new fan of as a way to learn about different online scams and how to defend yourself against them. Put your phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry at Freezing your credit reports is another good step, even though it will be a bit bothersome the next time you apply for credit and have to "thaw" your credit report.

Read more about how to freeze your credit.

How do you defend yourself against scams and scoundrels?

Follow me on Twitter: @drdonsays.

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August 28, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Like Kim, I witnessed someone close (in this case a daughter/grandson) taking advantage of Mom/Grandma.
Always needing money in the form of "loans' that never get repaid or food from Grandma's freezer, etc.
Were it not for the objections of other family members I'd
certainly contact authorities......and may anyway.

August 28, 2014 at 1:08 pm

You also have to be aware of friends and family members! My mom had a caregiver that took her for her three houses, three cars, personal property in her house, and over $200,000 in bank accounts. She convinced my mom to adopt her and sign the deeds to the houses and cars the day before she died. This caregiver kept the family at arms length saying that it was my mom's wishes to not be seen. I did everything within the law to get into see my mom. Aging services, several police wellness checks, and the doctors, but no one helped us. But once she adopted this woman she became my sibling and now I'm in court trying to get all of this revoked and shut her down. Not so easy! And to top it off she is still living in my mom's house while this is being decided in court! So the criminals are not always strangers, beware!!

Richard Kartch
August 28, 2014 at 1:01 pm

The government "Do Not Call" list that you suggest people sign up for is a waste of time. It does no good as far as stopping fraudelent calls and there is no recourse if you do get "unwanted" calls because, basically, the government says it will not do anything to try and stop your telemarketing calls. These people move around too often for the authorities to catch them.

Terry Harp
August 28, 2014 at 9:50 am

Seniors who get upset over blogs like this need to open their eyes to the reality of life! I am 64 and met my hubby "online" on an "adult" website. I am one of the fortunate ones. We met online in 2009, met face-to-face in 2011, and were married in 2012. He not only didn't "take me for a ride", like some of my so-called friends said he would, but we are very much in love...still.
The reality is that there ARE people "out there" that prey on the elderly (senior citizens) and it pays for us to keep abreast of the news concerning this problem, and to not be so petty as to think it doesn't happen, or won't happen to you. And BEWARE OF SELLING THINGS ONLINE, ESPECIALLY ON "CRAIG'S LIST" BECAUSE IT'S FILLED WITH SCAMMERS...I know, first hand, I wasn't taken because that man I met online (my hubby) knows all about internet scamming because he used to work for people who were trying to keep the internet safe, but that was years ago when the variety of browsers/computers was a minimal state.

August 28, 2014 at 8:55 am

The answer is simple. No company or fund raisers or what ever are not there for you-Greed is there by them to get what you have-I love how these people phone and start by asking you "how are you today?" as if they really care. No one cares how you feel- No one is calling to make your life better-They are calling to make their lives better. They are all crooks. I do not buy that they all are not crooks.Well believe what you want. THEY ARE ALL CROOKS.Because that is the way the world is today.