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How to Keep Seniors From Falling for a Scam

As a physical therapist, I have focused my professional attention on preventing older adults from falling through education, resources and exercises. As a son, grandson and son-in-law, I have added to my focus, preventing senior scams. I am personally involved in helping seniors, especially those who are new to the internet and trusting in the community, to know what a scam looks like.

With our nation’s growing older population, fraudulent schemes are becoming more popular and in demand. Con artists are everywhere and our seniors are a vulnerable prey to their deceptions. Sadly, many seniors are afraid to report a fraud or scam because they are usually too ashamed. If their family believes they no longer have the mental capacity to take care of themselves, then maybe an alternative dependent lifestyle is necessary.

Today’s high tech community is leaving everyone vulnerable to the latest con artist technique and strategy to take our money. Personally, I can’t even keep up with all the newest technological gadgets and their related deceptive schemes—so how can we expect our seniors, who have little context or digital life experience, to know what to do?

It is important to be prepared and prevent the next scam, because unfortunately the con artist is just waiting to lure-in our unsuspecting seniors. Today’s scammers are proficient in enticing our seniors with telemarketing, fake prescriptions and internet fraud schemes. Using a quick tongue, being knowledgeable of the subject and having an action plan is the mantra of the con.

For example, a phone call claiming to be a granddaughter is a sure way to push some emotional buttons for a quick money fix. Telling the grandparent that she is in trouble and would you please wire some money to pay for an accident or get out of jail has been repetitively used. All the personal information from the real granddaughter was found posted on her Facebook page. The granddaughter’s Facebook privacy settings weren’t high enough and allowed posted personal account information and facts about her family, friends and addresses to be viewed by anyone.

One solution, for parents is to download the new app FamilyControls, which was designed to configure privacy settings for kids. These features can prevent children from posting status updates and photos, prevent sharing websites and from sending or accepting friend requests. FamilyControls is the first-ever shared experience for Parents and their children to safely determine how much of the Facebook universe their kids will see. And this same app can be used to keep our seniors safe as well. By turning off the ability to click links, and filter out potentials scams, the same app that keeps kids safe online might just be another step in keeping seniors safe online too.

With healthcare costs rising, many seniors may turn to the internet to buy discount prescription drugs. Be wary of these scams. An older adult may unexpectedly pay for ineffective pills or even worse unsafe medication that may be harmful. First, discuss with your senior family member the pro’s and con’s of any online prescription medicine purchase. Make sure the site is secure, safe and a legitimate pharmaceutical company. Scam artists have been known to duplicate a site, siphon off the orders and then use the credit card info to make illegal purchases. Always use a non-critical real credit card (not a debit card) when making online purchases. That way, the risk is limited and insured.

Another risky situation, many seniors are not internet savvy and may find themselves downloading unnecessary software. When searching the web, they may come across a pop-up window stating—- you need a new virus software, download here. By downloading this software, a virus may have been released having the capacity to steal personal information. Or, there may be an e-mail, telling you that you need to update your personal information for a bank or the IRS. Never, release personal information without checking out the source first or asking a family member.

How do we help seniors and protect them from scammers:

  • Never give money to solicitors over the phone or in the mail.
  • Never give out personal information, to someone who contacts you.
  • Shred all documents with credit card numbers, social security numbers or personal information.
  • Never give out personal information from an email to a bank or organization without checking it out first.
  • Family members should offer to help seniors — open the mail and answer emails, when money or personal information is required.

I believe everyone has a personal responsibility to take care of themselves and also to help others. This is especially true when it comes to our older adults. Seniors need direction and advice with their health, finances and personal issues that must come from a trusted family member or friend. Play the devils advocate and say, “Today, this is happening in our world with con artists and scammers, so beware”. Seniors deserve and need our assistance on the internet, to handle daily finances and limit personal information exposure to prevent a fraudulent scam. TIME, INFORMATION and COMMITMENT is the best deterrent to a shameful and embarrassing scam —-to anyone.

About Bill Case

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13 comments

  1. I live with my mother who doesn’t particularly speak good English. While I am away at home I feel that she does a good job of ‘redirecting calls’ to me – often she just says that she doesn’t understand what they are saying, or that the owner of the house is not home at the present moment. Although not completely sound it is likely that if an important call were rejected, they would call back again at a later time.

  2. The thing here is they usually don’t read the whole thing, or are as easy to deceive as teenagers. Some aren’t tech savvy, some are just not paying attention! I agree with you in these measures:

    “How do we help seniors and protect them from scammers:
    Never give money to solicitors over the phone or in the mail.
    Never give out personal information, to someone who contacts you.
    Shred all documents with credit card numbers, social security numbers or personal information.
    Never give out personal information from an email to a bank or organization without checking it out first.
    Family members should offer to help seniors — open the mail and answer emails, when money or personal information is required.”

    And if you do take care of them, take the time to teach them and let them understand how to detect scams, they WILL get it. Everyone does. If they’re too old -senile or have bad memory- you need to set filters to help them. Or just remove their access to digital money. They might not even need it.

    Remember… they helped you a while ago, it’s your time to give back.

  3. I think everyone should share this article with the seniors in their lives. Many times they are targeted because they are not always so tech savvy or familiar with what scams are out there. The problem is that there are not only scammers reaching them by phone, mail, or on the internet, but also in many retail stores. My local Best Buy store and also AT&T have been scamming people who sign up for cellphone services by adding an extra service onto plans without asking the customers. The extra service typically costs around $10 a month, so it is a low enough price that many won’t question it when they receive their bill. Other times they will add on an extra $20 service or upgrade your phone service(without your knowledge) even when you are just trying to ask them a simple question about your plan.

    I have seen this occur several times in my area, and my fiance even had to turn down a job with a cellphone service provider due to them trying to get him to do this during training…One thing we must teach our seniors is to question any little difference in their bill, make sure they ask questions and have someone who they trust around to assist them when there’s something they are not understanding. Besides that, they must learn to be weary when someone is asking for their credit card and banking information.

  4. I have a senior friend who was paying $300 a month for her cellphone because she didn’t know how to change the plan and no one would help her. She is in her 70s and single so it was more of a case she didn’t know what to ask or what to say as too often customer helplines can only help you when you tell them what you want. I did help her, but for nearly three years she had been paying that much to T-Mobile because the main account holder had died and she lost all her passwords. Clearly society needs to be more understanding rather than ripping off seniors that don;t understand.

    By confusing seniors, they just want to agree and get things sorted and that’s when they get scammed. I always double check things for my senior friends and my parents, because they don’t know if they have been ripped off.

  5. Looking out for seniors does help to make sure they are not being taken advantage of. Even if you are not a senior the customer service from some companies are no help and confuse you more than you allready where. Maybe the seniors should be encouraged to ask their church for help on things that confuse them.

  6. I agree with the comments. I think the real root of the problem is not so much that seniors are gullible, but that they assume many things just will not happen because of the law – for example, one would not expect to be ripped off in a shop. I think they don’t quite realise that the internet is a global, lawless territory and that they aren’t thinking in that mentality when they fall for such scams.

  7. I totally agree, helping seniors is very important for their well being. Not to say they are gullible, but we live in a society were everything is advanced. Its our responsibility to ensure our elders are taken care of. It’s unfortunate they lack new age knowledge (which is the internet). Not only do we help them but we also need to help ourselves. The internet is full of predators. Therefore, allowing young children to browse the web is a lot more dangerous today than back when. It’s our responsibility to keep an eye out on everything.

  8. I should show this to my mother! Thank you so much for posting something so useful, and truthful. Most anti-scam guides seem to be scamming you themselfs. Thanks for the straightforwardness (If that’s a word.)

  9. This is truly scary. We live in a world where people just don’t care. This made me think of how someone could go to a senior’s home and act as if they are a supplier (TV, Internet, Phone), Make a badge and poof! Rob them for hundreds of dollars but even worse Identity theft. It is sick how people take advantage of seniors.

  10. I’ve done tech support for years and couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve dealt with seniors who were scammed. People call them up and pretend to be from Microsoft and tell them their computer has been infected by a virus. Then they get them to bring up this screen and that and when the “identifying” information matches “their records” they are tricked into believing it’s real. In actuality, they are just leading their victims to read bits of information that are the exact same on every pc. It’s an excellent confidence trick. It’s horrible but when you have people who’s morals and values are so dismal that they don’t mind stealing from people, I’m not sure what all we can do. The advice here is excellent but I fear there will always be enough people both doing and falling for this that it’ll never end.

  11. Because society is evolving at an extremely quick rate nowadays, it’s definitely important to keep older people who didn’t grow up with anything like this informed on how to stay safe. People are willing to prey on anyone they can get their hands on, and unfortunately seniors are the some of the most vulnerable people.

  12. It’s very true what another user posted. Sometimes they simply aren’t paying attnetion to what they’re signing off to. It’s not their fault per se, there really shouldn’t be people out there trying so hard to take advantage of the elderly. Hopefully as they get more informed we’ll have less of these problems in the future…

  13. It is amazing that with all the technology we have at our fingertips today such a disproportionate amount is used on scamming the elderly and so little is out there to help prevent this. I understand how difficult it is for people who did not grow up with this technology to use it properly. I have seen a fair number of my older family members go the other direction; they assume everything is a scam and are paranoid about doing anything on the internet. It is sad to see these very warm people become a bit more cynical because of these scam artists. I will show this article to my grandma and have her spread it around because it will definitely help.

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