There has been a lot of talk
about identity theft and the need to protecting your financial information. Is
this all media frenzy, or is there more you should be doing to protect yourself
and your assets?
There are many different
ways that criminals and fraudsters might try to get money out of you. Below is
a list of nine scams targeting older adults, and what you should be on the
lookout for. A good rule of thumb is to let common sense prevail. If it seems
like a scam, it probably is a scam and these tips are meant to help you avoid
being in one of those situations:
• In addition to guarding
your financial information, you’ll want to protect your health insurance
information by routinely reviewing statements and bills from your hospital, and
never signing blank insurance claim forms.
• Be skeptical of anyone
offering an unsolicited service that seems too good to be true, whether this is
for health insurance enrollment, reverse mortgages, investment opportunities,
or email offers.
• Before making a financial
commitment, consult a trusted friend or financial advisor to review the
opportunity. Make sure that you know exactly who you are dealing with and that
you fully understand the business agreement.
• Consult a doctor or
pharmacist before ordering from an online pharmacy or taking any new
• Be hesitant to provide
money upfront for any goods or services.
• Never give your social
security or any other private information over the phone to solicitors.
Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud: In these
instances, a scammer can pose as a Medicare representative, and ask you for
your personal information; or they can offer phony services to obtain your
personal information. This can come in the form of a television commercial
urging people to call a number to sign up for new insurance, scammers going
door-to-door claiming to be with the government to sell fake medical plans, or
telemarketers seeking personal information to issue new Medicare cards as
required by the health care law.
Counterfeit Medications: With some drugs costing as much as they do, it’s understandable that
we might try to find them at a cheaper cost, but there can be many risks
involved. Most online pharmacies follow the laws and regulations to put
your health and safety first, but some do not. An unsafe online pharmacy might
fill an order without a prescription, or without a doctor reviewing your
medication history. Unsafe online pharmacies have also been known to sell
products that are past their expiration date, are fake or mislabeled, have
dangerous ingredients, or have been made using unsafe or unapproved standards.
Funeral and Cemetery
Scams: While you are grieving the loss of a loved
one you are faced with a mountain of decisions to make, and unfortunately
scammers could try to take advantage of the situation. Funeral homes might try
to push unnecessary services to drive up your bill, or a person might show up
at the funeral claiming your loved one had an outstanding debt with them.
Consider appointing a friend or neighbor to be your ally throughout the
process, to ask hard questions and to keep an eye out for your best interests.
And if anyone approaches you after the death of a loved one asking for money,
refer that person to the executor of the estate.
Products: The promise of the fountain of youth can
certainly be enticing, but look out for fake Botox or other products claiming
to take 35 years off your face, as these products can contain chemicals and
substances that can have serious health consequences. Research the product
thoroughly before buying it, and watch out for “secret formulas” or
“breakthroughs”. You’ll want to consult your doctor before taking any new
medication, especially as it could interact with something else you take.
Telemarketing Fraud: Telemarketing fraud can take many different forms. Most often, the scammers
will try to sell you bogus products or services, or tell you that you’ve won
free money or prizes. If you get one of these calls, do your research on
the company and ask for written material about any offer. Check out unfamiliar
companies with your local consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau.
Internet Fraud: Similar to telemarketing frauds, internet fraud can take a variety
of forms. Some emails prompt you to download software that will then copy your
personal information. Others emails will ask you to “update” or “verify” your
personal information. You might get fake notices from the IRS or other
government agencies. If you receive online notices or emails, make sure you
independently verify all of the information.
Investment Schemes: These investment schemes are often designed in complex financial
terms meant to confuse you. Some common investment schemes are 419 Fraud,
Advance Free Schemes, or Prime Bank Note Fraud. While the details of the
“offer” might differ, most investment schemes have several defining
characteristics: you are often asked to pay some kind of fee or initial
investment up-front, you are asked to deposit money into a foreign bank
account, you are asked to sign a nondisclosure or non-circumvention agreement,
or you are promised huge investment return rates. The bottom line here is: If
it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure that before making any
investment you know who you are dealing with and that you fully understand the
Reverse Mortgage Scams: Unsecured reverse mortgages can lead you to lose your home when the
scammer offers you money for the title to your property. In many reported
scams, victims are offered free homes, investment opportunities, and
foreclosure or refinance assistance. Be suspicious of unsolicited
advertisements or of anyone claiming that you can own a home with no down
payment. You’ll want to seek out your own reverse mortgage counselor. In
Massachusetts, consider contacting HOME (Homeowner Options for Massachusetts
Elders) at 978-970-0012. HOME is a reverse mortgage counselor that has been
approved by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs.
The Grandparent Scam: You get a call in the middle of the night from someone claiming to
be your grandchild asking for money for overdue rent. If this happens to you,
make sure you verify the person’s identity. Ask specifically for a name and
have a question ready that only your real grandchild would be able to answer,
for example, a question about a Christmas present that was given or received.
If you’re still suspicious even after a “real” name is provided, insist on
returning the call to your grandchild at his or her home or cellphone, but
don’t ask the caller for the number.
If you find
yourself in one of these situations, don’t make any immediate decisions.
Contact a trusted friend or advisor. If you suspect that a family member is
involved in trying to scam you or otherwise control your finances, call the
Protective Services Team of Mystic Valley Elder Services at 781-324-7705.
Specially trained caseworkers will investigate your situation and work with you
for a solution.