The numbers are shocking. As many as one in five older Americans has been taken advantage of financially, according to an elder investor fraud survey. In reality, that figure may be low, because many older people who've been swindled are too embarrassed to admit it. While unscrupulous individuals are happy to fleece anyone of any age, seniors are all too often the targets of scam artists.
Swindlers typically try to appeal to one of two emotions: fear or greed. Fear may entail the specter of some purported calamity requiring a costly car or home repair, or claims that credit or tax problems could ruin your future. The appeal to greed often involves an investment that pays unusually high interest or that promises substantial profits in a short time frame.
Taking advantage of people isn't solely the purview of shady characters and telephone boiler rooms. Even people who work for seemingly reputable companies may try to push inappropriate investments or impose exceptionally high fees. Here are some of the most common ways that scammers target unsuspecting seniors, as well as tips on avoiding these ruses:
In most cases, it’s best simply to hang up on telemarketers after asking to be removed from their call lists. Enroll in the National Do Not Call Registry to prevent many of these calls. At a minimum, request that information be mailed to you before you make any decisions.
If a telemarketer claims to be calling from a business you know, such as your bank, ask for a call-back phone number. Then check to see if the number matches the one on your statement or credit card.
Just because a company advertises on radio or television or in the newspaper doesn't necessarily mean that it's legitimate. These media outlets are under no obligation to investigate an advertiser. The majority of ads for tax relief, credit counseling, gold coins and buying real estate on the cheap, just to name a few, aren't going to help your bottom line.
Computers make it much easier for swindlers to separate victims from their money. Don't believe anything you read in an unsolicited e-mail, and never respond to requests for personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers or your date of birth. Legitimate companies don't ask for this type of information by e-mail.
Don't let a slick presentation woo you into doing something you'll regret. If you don't recognize the company, don't bite. Even if you do, proceed with caution. Read the fine print, and if you don't understand it all, ask a trusted family member or adviser to help.
All the information presented on AARP.org is for educational and resource purposes only. We suggest that you consult with your financial or tax adviser with regard to your individual situation. Use of the information contained in this website is at the sole choice and risk of the reader.