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Scams (part 2)

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Dear Readers,

This week’s column is a continuation of our discussion of financial scams perpetrated on older adults.  The National Council on Aging (NCOA), a nonprofit service and advocacy organization for older persons, recently published the top 10 financial scams.

Perpetrators consider these scams as low-risk crimes because they are under reported and can be difficult to prosecute.

  1. Medicare frauds.  In these cases the scam artists pose as Medicare representatives and get personal information from the individual.  They often provide bogus services at makeshift mobile clinics and then use the information to bill Medicare and keep the money.
  2. Counterfeit prescription drugs.  These scams often operate over the Internet offering lower prices on medications.  They are not only a waste of money but also may do bodily harm because of unsafe drugs.
  3. Funeral and cemetery scams.  There are several types.  Scammers read the obituary pages and then contact the grieving widow telling her the deceased has a debt, typically untrue.  The scammer wants to collect.  Here’s another.  Some funeral homes take advantage of a family member’s unfamiliarity with funeral costs and add unnecessary charges.  Another is funeral directors insisting the most expensive casket is needed even for cremation.   I’d like to add one more that affected my east-coast family.  Scammers read the obituary page noting the time of the funeral. At that precise time they robbed the home.
  4. Fraudulent anti-aging products.  The search for the fountain of youth continues. Scammers offer fake Botox like the one in Arizona that netted $1.5 million in less than a year. Bogus homeopathic remedies that do nothing are also part of anti-aging scamming.
  5. Telemarketing.  The pigeon drop:  The con artist tells the person he or she found a large sum of money and will split it if the person makes a “good faith” payment from his or her bank account. Sometimes a second scammer is involved posing as a lawyer or banker.  The fake accident ploy:  The con artist gets a victim to send or wire money telling the victim their his or her child or relative is in the hospital and needs money.  The charity scam:  Money is solicited for fake charities, often the case following natural disasters.
  6. Internet fraud.  Here’s an example. A pop-up browser that looks like anti-virus software will request the user to download it at a substantial cost.  The software is bogus.  Or, older adults receive an e-mail requesting an update or verification of their personal information.  The source appears legitimate like the IRS or AOL.  The result in identity theft.
  7. Investment schemes.  These schemes target older adults planning and saving for retirement.  We’ve all received the e-mail of a Nigerian prince looking for a partner to claim inheritance money.  The prince just needs a bank account to make the deposit.  Add the Bernice Maddoff pyramid scheme to this.
  8. 8. Homeowner and reverse mortgage schemes. A homeowner receives a personalized letter from the County Assessor’s office.  The letter identifies the property’s assessed value and offers the homeowner a reassessment that will reduce the property tax – for a fee.  Also reverse mortgages are offered; perpetrators offer money or a free home in exchange for the title to the property.
  9. Sweepstakes and lottery scams. Older adults are informed they have won a lottery or sweepstake.  They need to send the scam artist some sort of payment to unlock the alleged prize.   The scammer sends the older adult a check to be deposited in his or her account.  Of course, the check does not clear.  The scammers get their money; the prize money is removed from the  account when the check bounces.

10.  The grandparent scam. This is the worst.  Scammers call the “mark” or victim and say, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?”   The grandparent says the name of the child.  Now the scammer has a fake identity.  The supposed grandchild asks for money for a financial problem to be paid via Western Union or Moneygram that don’t always require identification.  And then comes, “Don’t’ tell my parents; they’ll kill me.”

To report consumer fraud, contact the National Consumer’s League, National Fraud Information Center at  Or contact the California Attorney General at 800-953-5225.

If we all become more aware of such crimes, hopefully we can avoid being victims and also protect our loved ones.

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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