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.
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 OnGuardOnline.gov 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 www.donotcall.gov. 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.