With scams and schemes on the rise, senior citizens remain high-target victims for unethical businesses. In some scams, more than 80 percent of the victims are 65 or older. Because many seniors have cash reserves or other assets to spend, they are often targeted for fraudulent activity. The Better Business Bureau of Western PA encourages families to keep the lines of communication open with their elders regarding finances and to recognize some common cons targeting senior citizens.
“Scammers are aware and take advantage of the fact that the Pittsburgh metro area is one of the highest populated in the country in terms of senior citizens,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “It’s extremely important to keep the lines of communication open with seniors so that you can identify suspicious spending habits, as well as educate your elder family members on recognizing the red flags of common cons.”
The BBB warns against the following scams that commonly target senior citizens:
Sweepstakes and Prize Promotion Schemes –Typically, the victim receives a letter in the mail stating they have won a sweepstakes or prize; it might even claim to be from Publisher’s Clearing House or Reader’s Digest. The letter instructs the victim to deposit the 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.
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 1.800.447.8477.
Home Improvement – While many scams targeting senior citizens might not have a face, some scammers will be invited in the front door including technicians, contractors, chimney sweeps, air duct cleaners and other services. Some professionals will lie about the extent of the problem or claim safety issues and then inflate prices for unsuspecting senior customers.
- BBB Advice – Find professionals you can trust by checking out the BBB’s Accredited Businesses Directory. Always research a company with the BBB before you hand over any money and check out BBB’s tips on hiring a home improvement contractor. Report any deceptive services to your BBB, local law enforcement and the PA Attorney General. To check on a company’s Business Review, visit www.bbb.org or call toll free 877.267.5222.
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 the 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.
Start your search for a reputable business with trust with your Better Business Bureau. For more information on protecting seniors from scams, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and Business Reviews you can trust on local companies, visit www.bbb.org or call 877-267-5222.