Scamming seniors has become a big business. The advent of the internet was an absolute gift for con artists, who gained a powerful tool with which to part the unsuspecting from their money. But the senior consumer does have a way to fight back. Knowledge is power – when you're aware of the most common cons it's easier to distinguish potential scams from legitimate opportunities.
Confidence tricksters target seniors because they're perceived as being too polite to say no, easily intimidated, trusting, with money in the bank. This is a gross generalisation, of course; many seniors are just as savvy as their younger counterparts. But some seniors are vulnerable, and these are the people scammers target.
Confidence scams aren't limited to the web. Scams can arrive in the form of telephone calls, letters, emails, or in person in the form of a con artist on your doorstep.
The perpetrators of scam investment schemes prey on people's greed. They promise unrealistic returns for your money. "Give us $500 a month and earn $5000, or $10,000, or more!" The reality is that you'll give them your money and that will be the end of it. Goodbye money.
If an offer seems too good to be true, it usually is. Use your common sense and gut instincts. Before investing money in any scheme, do your homework. Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau. Go to your local Chamber of Commerce or police station and ask their advice, or ask your Bank Manager if they think the scheme is legitimate. Go online and do a search under the company's name.
This scam involves an unsolicited email from someone in the Third World (often Africa) who asks for your help in claiming a large amount of money which belongs to them, but to which they can't get access. They want you to help them get the money out of their country, and in return they offer to give you a share. All they need are your bank details. They will then proceed to siphon money from your account.
These cons have been around for years, but people still fall for them.
Congratulations, you've won the Spanish/UK/Canadian lottery! Despite the fact that you've never entered! Please ignore the fact that we've misspelled several words in our email and have only a very rudimentary grasp of English grammar. Send us your bank details anyway and we'll clear out your account. Or just send us an administrative fee to claim your "prize" and you'll never hear from us again.
Be suspicious of any sweepstake that asks for money before you can claim your prize. If you win a prize you should never be asked to pay any taxes up front. That's between you and the IRS. Legitimate prize draws never demand money for fees or administrative costs, and they will never ask for your bank details. Also be suspicious of automated telephone calls with recorded messages that announce you've won a prize or a trip. When you win a legitimate prize a real human being will phone you.
Don't reply to any mail (either email or via the post) you receive announcing you've a prize if the message looks at all trashy or overly hyped. When you win a legitimate prize you'll be contacted directly by the sponsor or their marketing company via a non-flashy email, letter, or phone call.
Scammers pretending to work for charities often crop up in the aftermath of natural disasters. Fake charities were a problem after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. These people show up at your door with very convincing stories.
Don't give money to door-to-door canvassers if you're not familiar with the charity, or if they can't demonstrate that they're legitimate. Don't let strangers into your home, even if they do claim to work for a charity.
If you're at all unsure, ask for information to be sent to you. If the charity is real, they'll be happy to send it.
Telephone salespeople can be extremely persuasive and they're not all working for reputable companies. Some are charming and persuasive; others are pushy and persuasive. They're bullies, in other words. These people prey on the good manners of older citizens, who may have been taught that it's rude to hang up abruptly.
Remember that it's NOT impolite to give a firm, "I'm not interested, thanks," before putting the phone down on an unwanted salesperson. They called you uninvited, after all. You don't owe them a conversation.
If you're being plagued by sales calls, put yourself on a national "no call" list. You can register online at donotcall.gov. This will stop a lot of calls, but the real scammers aren't likely to be deterred.
Learn to hang up on them.
This con starts with a salesman or tradesman coming to your door and informing you that you're in urgent need of a new roof, siding, driveway, etc. You will then be massively overcharged, or billed for work that wasn't necessary in the first place.
Always get a second opinion from a reputable local builder or tradesman before agreeing to hire someone who appears on your doorstep.
This scam begins with an email purporting to be from your bank or credit card provider, which asks you to click on a link and log into your account. You'll then be taken to a counterfeit webpage that may look very much like your bank's site. Once you log-in, the scammers have your username and password. They then go to the real bank's website and use your log-in details to steal money from your account. They're "fishing" for the one or two people in ten thousand who will fall for the fake email. Phishing emails and websites can be very convincing; if you're tempted to click on a link, call your bank first. They'll be able to confirm whether the message is from them or not.
There's one fairly simple way to avoid falling victim to internet scammers - don't open email if you don't recognise the sender. Just by opening spam emails you can enable viruses that infect your computer and allow scammers to gather information about you.
Remember that the main goal of scam artists is to take your money. They're very persuasive and don't want you to go away and ask for advice, or take time to think about their "offer". Be extremely wary of sales people who try to pressure you into making a decision immediately. Never reveal personal information like bank or credit card details, or your social security number. If you're made an offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Trust your instincts, keep yourself informed about common scams, and you'll avoid becoming some conman's latest victim.
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