The National Council on Aging’s Top Ten Financial Elder Abuse Schemes

After every tragedy we hear about fake charities taking advantage of people’s generosity (here’s one recent example, including tips on avoiding scam charities). In addition to preying on people’s desire to help following a tragedy, scammers also use fake charities to target seniors. Our San Francisco elder abuse law firm believes it is important to be aware of the common forms of financial abuse targeting seniors, in order to prevent future abuse and help victims recognize when a fraud has occurred.
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According to the National Council on Aging (“NCOA”), financial scams targeting seniors are growing more prevalent and are becoming “the crime of the 21st century.” Perpetrators assume seniors have accumulated savings and the crimes are considered “low-risk” because they often go unreported (note: more than 90% of all elder abuses cases are perpetrated by family members). However, the scams can devastate victims who are often unable to recoup their losses.

The NCOA provides a “Top Ten” list of the most common financial scams targeting seniors:

  1. Health Care, Medicare, or Health Insurance Fraud – Perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative in order to get a victim’s personal information or may offer a bogus “medical service.” They then use this information to bill Medicare or private insurance and pocket the money.
  2. Counterfeit Prescriptions – This scheme often occurs online, where people often go seeking lower medication costs. Fake medication schemes not only target a victim’s wallet, but may be dangerous to their health due to missed doses and hazardous substances used in some fake pills. In the 1990s, the FDA investigated 5 cases a year. Since 2000, the number has risen to 20.
  3. Funeral & Ceremony Scams – Scammers may call a recently widowed senior (identified via obituaries or funeral services), claim the deceased owed a debt, and try to extort money to settle the non-existent debt. In another variation, unscrupulous funeral homes add unneeded charges to the bill, taking advantage of the family’s unfamiliarity with funerals and funeral costs.
  4. Fake Anti-Aging Products – Capitalizing on society’s love for all things youthful, these scams range from fake topical products to medicines and fake injectable substances.
  5. Telemarketing – As a group, seniors make twice as many over-the-phone purchases than other groups. Schemes include fraudulent sales, fake charities, and calls pretending a loved one was in an accident and needs immediate funds.
  6. Internet Fraud – Internet scammers prey on the fact that older people may be less familiar with internet technologies. Victims may unknowingly download a virus or pay for unneeded software (ex. a pop-up window says the user needs to purchase a program to combat a fake threat, resulting in the user buying a fake service or downloading an actual threat). Other “phishing schemes” purport to be contact from a real company (or even the IRS) and ask the user to “verify” personal information.
  7. Investment Schemes – Scammers target seniors desire to safeguard or grow their savings. Bernie Madoff’s case and people purporting to need help claiming inheritance or legal settlements fall into this category.
  8. Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Schemes – Seniors may be more likely to own their own homes, a fact used by scammers. In contrast to legitimate reverse mortgage companies, a criminal may offer unsecured reverse mortgages, promising money or another asset in exchange for title to a senior’s home (and then not delivering on the promise). Other real estate schemes include offering to fake reassessment to avoid a similarly-fake tax increase.
  9. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams – A perpetrator may inform potential victims that they have won a lottery but need to make a payment to “unlock” the prize. Victims are often sent a prize check to deposit. The check is eventually rejected but, in the few days this takes, the perpetrator collects the “fee” (or “tax”), depositing the victims’ genuine check before the “prize money” check bounces.
  10. Grandparent Scams – A scammer calls an older person saying “Hey Grandma, guess who this is?,” easily learning the name of a grandchild. The caller then asks for money to help with an unexpected need, begging that the caller not mention it to the grandchild’s parent who would “be angry” (and might identify it as a scheme!). The scammer asks the victim to send money by Western Union or MoneyGram, services that may not always require identification to collect funds.

We hope this list helps keep seniors, and people of all ages, safe from scammers. We also hope it helps victims feel less alone and less embarrassed about falling victim to a common crime. Attorney Brod has experience helping victims of elder abuse, including financial scams. If you or a beloved relative has fallen victim to one of these crimes, please call our San Francisco financial abuse lawyer for help.

See Related Blog Posts:
Identifying the Many Forms of Elder Abuse

Consumer Reports Focuses on Financial Elder Abuse

(Photo by Ken Teegardin)