How to Prevent Common Senior Scams

Posted by Marlene Williams on Jun 20, 2019, 3:59:08 PM

Preventing Senior Scams in West SeattleSeniors are victims of fraud more and more in recent years. Unfortunately, seniors are more susceptible to scams, due to increased likelihood of boredom, expendable income, and dementia; not to mention, seniors who did not grow up with technology are easier to be thrown off their guard in the digital space, where many senior scams take place.

The devious thing about these senior scams is that in addition to targeting seniors’ wallets, the most common types of fraud also target seniors’ hearts. Many scammers use rhetoric that makes seniors think they are helping their family or a charity or their own sense of security – but in reality the money is funneling into the scammers’ pockets.

Keep your finances safe. Here are some tips on how you can avoid the most common types of fraud.


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Charity Scams

Fake charity scams take advantage of the best in seniors. These are scams in which the scammers solicit donations from seniors, posing as charitable do-gooders when in fact they are soliciting fraudulent donations for themselves. But this should not prevent seniors from charity altogether; rather, it’s just good to know the warning signs for a fake charity so you can continue to donate to the good ones with a clear conscience.

Tips to avoid charity fraud:

  1. Don’t be afraid to say no to someone until after you thoroughly research the charity they are pitching. If somebody is urging you to donate before carefully reviewing the charity’s website and history, it could be a scam.
  2. NEVER give out personal information to anyone who does not allow you to take the time to investigate the cause they represent first. This means whether verbally, in writing, or electronically, keep your personal information personal until you have thoroughly vetted the organization.
  3. Before you give to any charity, find out how much of the money you give goes to the charitable purpose. You can ask the charity when they call or by contacting the Secretary of State’s office and asking for the registration number and financial reports for the charity in question.
  4. It’s a good idea to develop a personal annual charity-giving plan each year based on your personal values. This involves making a small list of charities that you trust, have investigated, and may have donated to in the past. This way, you know which charities you will say yes to BEFORE they even contact you, and takes the stress out of the process.
  5. GuideStar.org is a great resource to use to determine whether a charity is worthy of your support. The Donor Bill of Rights and the Tips for Choosing a Charity are both excellent documents to refer to when making charity decisions, as well. Other resources include Great Nonprofits, Charting Impact and Philanthropedia.

If nothing else, make charitable decisions with your brain, not just your heart, to avoid charity fraud. An impulsive decision to help others is only right if you know for sure it is going to those in need and not just someone from a fake charity who is hustling you.

Funeral and Cemetery Fraud

Funeral home fraud is another increasingly common senior scam. This one is not so much a matter of finding which companies are legitimate – though that should always be a consideration – but not letting the funeral companies upsell you things you do not need. It is good to know which things you actually do and don’t need to pay to a funeral home before whipping out that credit card.

Tips to avoid funeral home scams:

  1. Shop around before you make a purchase. Funeral homes are required to provide a detailed list of general costs over the phone or in writing, and you can use these to compare funeral homes and make the most cost-effective decision. You can also compare costs of caskets online, even on Amazon.
  2. Educate yourself fully when purchasing a casket, and understand that caskets are not required for direct cremations.
  3. Carefully read all contracts before signing anything. The fine print can be a doozy. If you find it difficult to understand on your own, ask a trusted friend or family member to be your second set of eyes.
  4. Know your local laws before letting a mortician tell you that you need to buy embalmment. Embalming rules vary from state to state, and it is not required for direct cremations.
  5. Know the difference between standard funeral home fees and “additional fees”.
  6. If you decide to prepay your funeral expenses, be sure to let your family and loved ones know your wishes, as well as what you already paid for.
  7. NEVER let yourself be pressured into making quick decisions, signing contracts, or paying for something you do not fully understand.

There are plenty of stereotypes of conman morticians trying to take as much money as they can from mourning families. Though this is often an exaggeration, it is good to be prepared for the worst. Funerals are expensive, but if you start to suspect you are being scammed, do your research and stand up for yourself.

Telemarketer Fraud

Telemarketing scams come in many forms, but they all rely on the vulnerability of seniors to steal money from them over the phone. These callers are often disguised as someone congratulating you on winning a prize that you never signed up for, or even one of your own billing companies asking for money. What they all have in common is that they all want your personal and financial information – and they are all avoidable and reportable.

Tips to avoid telemarketing scams:

  1. Never buy from an unfamiliar company. If the company is legitimate, they will understand you want to check them out and think before making the purchase.
  2. Ask for the information or the potential agreement in writing first before giving any personal information. But also remember to thoroughly check them out with the Attorney General’s Office, the Better Business Bureau, the National Fraud Center, or other friends and relatives because you can’t always trust what is in writing from a fraudulent company. Note that your bank and insurance company will never ask for your personal information over the phone, so if someone who calls you asks for your personal information, hang up.
  3. Obtain a salesperson's name, title or position, contact information, and business license numbers; then verify their information before you transact business.
  4. Always take your time to make a decision; legitimate companies expect that from their customers and will never pressure someone to make a quick decision.
  5. Never pay money for a “free prize” even if they do claim it is to cover shipping or taxes.

Telemarketing fraud is becoming more and more common and seniors are very susceptible to it. But it is easily avoidable. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t recognize a phone number that is calling you, it is likely a solicitor or scammer, and you don’t need to answer. If it actually is somebody you know and it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

Home Security Fraud

Similar to funeral scams, home security scams could be either fake home security companies pretending to be real or real companies that are trying to nickel and dime you. Not all – maybe not even most – home security companies are like this, but it is important to know the warning signs before you empty your pockets for a false sense of security.

Tips to avoid home security scams:

  1. So-called “limited time offers” are often just ways to get potential buyers excited to buy quickly without having time to think about the offer. Most legitimate home security companies to not go door to door with limited time offers.
  2. It is common for home security scammers to use scare tactics when selling their product. This entails telling the homeowner about recent violent crimes and break-ins in their neighborhood to scare them into feeling the need for home security. Often this information is false or skewed.
  3. Many scammers will claim to be part of your preexisting home security company. If your home security company plans on stopping by your place, they would let you know first, so be extra skeptical of drop-ins.
  4. Be wary of fine print – don’t sign anything preemptively. Companies often put contracts on mobile tablets that seniors cannot read so that they sign unfair contracts that they don’t understand.
  5. Even real home security companies use shady tactics to squeeze as much money as they can out of unassuming homeowners. Make sure you compare prices before choosing a home security company and ask about installation, technology, recurring payments, cancellation fees and other hidden fees beforehand.

Like many other scams, avoiding home security scams is just a matter of verifying the legitimacy of the company prior to making any commitments and looking out for these 4 mentioned warning signs.


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Mail fraud

Mail fraud is one of the most common federal criminal charges. There are many different kinds of mail fraud, but all involve people pretending to be a person or organization that they aren’t. Many scammers will claim to be your insurance organization or the IRS, asking for you to make an overdue payment. Here are some things to look out for.

Tips to avoid mail fraud:

  1. If you have mail asking for money from the IRS, an insurance company, or something similar, contact your tax or insurance representative to verify that the mail is real.
  2. Check and compare the address and phone number on the mail to the address and phone number of the company as stated online. Often fake mail will use a fake address – usually a P.O. box – to run their scheme. Make sure to use the address on the envelope and not on the internal documents, because this is the address that was verified by the USPS.
  3. File your change of address with the post office to avoid scammers using your address you’re no longer at.

Mail fraud seems hard to prevent because it entails a permanent skepticism when it comes to mail. Mail is one of the most formal ways we receive information, but like all other kinds of communication should still be taken with a grain of salt to avoid being scammed.

Other Financial Issues for Seniors

The FBI says scams against the elderly are common because seniors were raised in a time where it was important to be polite and trusting. Not to mention, seniors are less likely to report fraud because they often don’t know how.

This gist of avoiding elder scams is being consistent about checking background information on companies, taking time to make decisions on payments, and never giving your personal information to anyone unless you know for certain they are legitimate.

Money management for seniors is often difficult for reasons other than scams. As a caretaker, it is important to help your loved one review their mail and check book to look out for these important signs that your loved one may be struggling with financial issues:

  1. Overdraft or shut-off notices
  2. Growing credits on recurring bills
  3. An empty bank account at the beginning of the month
  4. Stacks of unopened mail or items filed in unusual places
  5. Uncharacteristic purchases
  6. Increased gambling
  7. Strange mail and phone calls

Fear of running out of money is one of seniors’ top fears of aging. If you’re a senior and finances are getting difficult, don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand.

Preventing senior fraud is one of the biggest challenges with senior living communities, but it is something we are committed to at Daystar. Compare Daystar with other retirement communities with the handy checklist below.


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