Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

6 Common Elder Scams to Avoid

While the average internet user is getting older, internet scammers are getting bolder. The old Nigerian royalty phishing scam has gotten much more sophisticated, as have the other tactics of internet scammers. In addition to the new tactics, new technology is enabling scammers to prey upon the elderly more so than ever before.

Below are just a few of the scams that older internet users need to be aware of in order to make sure they are not tricked into handing over their nest eggs, retirement funds, or identity.

1. Royal Flush Phishing Scams

Phishing scams still work in the same way they did when that very first scammer sent the fraudulent email claiming to be royalty in need of assistance. If you receive an email from someone claiming to be royalty or from a rich family, and they need you to send them money so that they can get the money that is rightfully theirs, they are trying to scam you. If you send them the thousand dollars or whatever they are asking for, they claim to be able to send you half their million dollar fortune or inheritance. This is always a scam. Don't even bother to respond to these emails. If you're going to do anything with them, forward them to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov.

This scam can also use a fake lottery or sweepstakes to accomplish the same goal (scammers says you won the lotto or drawing, but that you need to send money to cover the taxes before you can be paid... trust me, you're not getting paid).

2. Phishing for Banking Info Scams

Phishing scams have gotten much smarter. Have you ever received an email from your bank asking you to update your user profile or user information? If so, you may want to double check that it was really from your bank, as this is a common online scam.

Phishers usually use email addresses that are off by one or two letters, so a @bankofamerica.com email address would say @bonkofamerica.com, for example. Then, when you click on the link, rather than getting directed to www.bankofamerica.com, you get directed to www.3ankofamerica.com or something to that effect. The site you get directed to will ask you to enter in personal information, your password, your social security number, and/or sometimes even your account numbers. The info you enter goes directly to scammers.

3. Phishing for Personal Info Scams

Like the one above, scammers will set up fake websites and email accounts that look nearly identical to common services that people use, such as email or social media sites. Then, they send an email requesting you update your profile or user information. Then, they use that information to steal your identity.

4. Medical Services or Devices Scams

For the elderly, medical services or devices scams are becoming a serious concern. While there are many legitimate services that offer seniors assistance and only get paid by Medicare, there are many scammers out there claiming to offer services to seniors that get paid without ever providing any actual service, or only provide one service, but bill Medicare for 10 services.

5. Help a Family Member Scams

Often referred to as the grandparent scam, the scammers calls someone they know to be elderly and immediately says, "Hi grandma (or grandpa), do you recognize my voice?" Inevitably, someone will mistakenly think that it really is their grandchild. Once the grandparent has taken the bait, the scammer will request money be sent for some emergency that no one else can know about. While these used to be only telephone scams, with internet phone services, which are virtually untraceable, these scams have become more popular.

A similar scam will come in the form of an email from a friend or family member, and will basically say that they are in a foreign country, or on vacation, and have either been robbed or lost all their money, credit cards, ID and phone some other way. The email then asks for you to send money ASAP as they are sitting in a web-cafe waiting for you to send money so they can eat, buy a ticket home, etc.

6. Home Improvement Scams

Sometimes legitimate business owners scam the elderly. Apart from simply overcharging for goods and services, a common scam involves selling home improvements that are not actually necessary. Certain less-than-moral contractors, especially in states that do not require a contractor to be licensed, will walk right up to the front door, sometimes pretending to be a government inspector, then explain that work is required to be done by law. If this happens, use the internet or phone book to find an independent contractor to provide a second opinion and estimate.

If you have been the victim of a scam, contact your local police, as well as your bank, to file reports. Your bank may be able to reverse a transaction, and the police will be able to investigate or pass the matter along to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

The only sure way to avoid being scammed is to be vigilant about not providing personal information or sending money to people you don't know, and to verify that if you're sending money to a family member, that the person is actually your family member. You can stay up on new scams by checking resources such as Snopes.com, which usually lists new scams to avoid.

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