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BBB: Elderly Americans a favorite target of unscrupulous scammers

  • Special to The Eagle
  • Published Saturday, June 22, 2013, at 6:44 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, June 22, 2013, at 6:48 a.m.

With the gradual loss of the physical health they enjoyed when young – sometimes accompanied by mental health issues as well – elderly Americans are keenly aware of their heightened vulnerability.

One way they may be able to guard themselves against the schemes of various scammers is by education.

Keeping seniors abreast of the latest scams is a constant goal of the Better Business Bureau.

The combination of Social Security income and a lifetime of savings and investment plans can put seniors on the radar of scammers. Factor in the value of their homes, often paid off by the time they reach retirement age, and you have a population that looks especially attractive to scam perpetrators.

The elderly tend to be home during the day as well. That’s the prime operating time for scammers.

Additionally, seniors may be more willing than some to listen to the pitch of a scammer. This is an instance in which their good manners may work against their own best interest.

Some older consumers find it difficult to hang up on a fast-talking pitchman, though this is exactly what they ought to do.

Here are some current scams being used to target seniors:

• Scammers have begun calling the elderly and informing them that they’ve been selected to get new insurance cards for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. All they require is a bank account number and Social Security number. This is all just a thinly veiled phishing attempt so the scammer can access the victim’s money.

• A caller claims a relative or friend has signed the victim up for the Life Alert device, or another medical device. When asked who signed up the senior, the caller claims they cannot give out the information.

Sometimes the caller claims the device is free but wants your personal information before they can send it. Be advised that legitimate companies do not use such techniques.

• The United States Postal Inspection Service warns that there’s been an increase in the number of seniors victimized by foreign lottery scams by phone and by regular mail.

Many of these scams reportedly originate in Jamaica. A caller will claim the victim owes fees or taxes in order to collect their winnings.

The perpetrators of these scams have been known to be extremely pushy. They may go onto Google Maps and find photos of the victim’s home, using that information to scare seniors by making it seem that they are being stalked.

• Scammers will use a Social Security recipient’s personal information to set up a bank account in their name and have Social Security payments directly deposited into that fraudulent account. Seniors are advised to be on the lookout for a notice saying you have created a new online account that you know nothing of.

• Still in use after many years is the grandparents scam. Since 2010 the Federal Trade Commission has gotten more than 40,000 complaints about this scam.

A call claims to be from a loved one who is in a foreign country and has been arrested. They supposedly need emergency money and don’t want their parents to have knowledge of it, so want it kept secret. Money is to be sent by wire transfer.

Thousands of dollars have been lost to scammers through this old favorite scam.

The BBB has a phone line just for seniors who want to report a scam or ask about a suspicious scam attempt. The BBB Senior Line number is 877-637-3334. Another helpful resource can be found online at bbb.org/scam-stopper.

Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau, which may be reached at 800-856-2417 or www.kansasplains.bbb.org.

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