If you’re lucky, you haven’t been the target of a scam, even luckier if you have been targeted but managed to figure out what was going on before you got swindled. The problem with scams nowadays is that they are so easy to perpetrate due to the low cost of running them. Many scams happen through the mail, email, or phone. Through the mail, if you receive something you were not expecting, it’s best not to believe it, especially if it’s something that sounds too good to be true. The same goes for email.
A common email scam is called the Nigerian Prince or 419 scam. This scam involves an email from someone claiming to represent a distant family member of yours. This family member is dying or sick and they need you to take their money. Another example is that the email is claiming to be a foreign government or agency needing your assistance. The sum of the money is usually in the millions. All you have to do to receive this money is to give them your contact info and wire them some money for fees.
It may sound like a crazy scam, but it is a huge industry in foreign countries because it costs almost nothing to send these emails and if they can just get one person to send a few thousand dollars it makes it worthwhile.
In regards to seniors, there are many disreputable people out there looking to take advantage. Below are some of the common scams that have been discovered that specifically target the elderly.
Many seniors are planning for retirement and thus looking to invest their nest egg. People take advantage by offering investment schemes that are looking to take your money. Before investing anything with these groups or individuals, it is best to get a second or third opinion from a trusted friend or professional.
Everyone loves free money, and scammers love to target this. You may receive a phone call, email, or letter claiming that you won a sweepstakes or lottery. All you have to do is send them a payment to unlock the prize. They will even send you an official looking check to make it look like you really won, but when you go to deposit the check it turns out to be fake.
The Grandparent Scam
This scam is scary, because it preys on your willingness to help your family. I have actually seen this scam in action and knew someone who was very close to sending the scammers money. The scammer will call you, claiming to be a relative like a grandchild. They will often ask “Hi Grandma/Grandpa, do you know who this is?”. That way they will know that you already think they are your relative. Then they will bring up a problem about finances like a late rent payment or they need money for some unexpected issue. They will ask for the payment through Western Union, MoneyGram, or even Visa Prepaid cards. The scammers will ensure you tell no one by saying “Please don’t tell my parents”. If you ever encounter something like this, the best way to ensure it is truly a relative is to ask them something only they would know such as their mother’s name, pet’s name, favorite vacation spot. Asking for money through Western Union is often a sign that it is a scam.
These scams are easy to perpetrate because they involve no paper trail or face to face interaction. Once the scam is complete, it is nearly impossible to recover money. One way to avoid phone scams is not to take calls from anyone you don’t know personally, especially if that person is bringing up the subject of money.
One common phone scam is to call and tell a person they found a big sum of money and will split it with you if you make a payment in good faith. There is often a second person involved who will act as a professional like a banker or lawyer to add legitimacy.
Charity scams are huge! They are increasingly targeting seniors; the worst ones targeting those with memory loss or dementia. If a charity calls on the phone, no matter what they ask don’t donate! It can be hard to say know to a fund that says they will help children or animals or some other cause, but many of these charities will end up donating only a small portion of the funds they raise and keep the rest for themselves. Sometimes, the callers claim to be charities and are actually fakes. Your best bet is to take down the name of the supposed charity and look them up on a site like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch that tracks charities and their finances.