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Scams Targeting Seniors at Alarming Rates, says Better Business Bureau

You’ve just won a million dollars! Not really. But that’s what scam artists try to convey when they call or send out sweepstakes mail and emails en masse. Typically, they’ll claim you’ve won money or a prize of some sort, but the only way you can claim it is if you send in a processing fee or “taxes,” which can sometimes be thousands of dollars. Victims send in this fee by cashier's check, prepaid debit card, Western Union or some other form, never to hear from the sweepstakes again.

According to the Better Business Bureau, older Americans are the fastest growing segment of the population to be victimized by identity fraud and Internet schemes such as this. If it sounds too good to be true, generally it is too good to be true.

The sweepstakes scam is just one of many different types of scams the Better Business Bureau has identified. Unfortunately the people who fall victim to these scams the most are the people who need the money the most. There are scammers out there that just absolutely prey on seniors non-stop.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 27 percent of consumer fraud complaints filled in 2013 were by those above the age of 60. However, instances of fraud often go unreported by senior citizens because they don't know where to report it or they are too embarrassed.

A similar scam to the sweepstakes scam is the grant scam that claims the victim has been awarded a government grant of some kind, but in order to receive it the person must prepay the taxes up front. Most of the time, the people that get these are really people that are on a limited income that have no money and they'll try to think that they can scrape together that money if they can get an update and have their house fixed or have it more energy efficient.

Another frequent scam that targets seniors is the medical alert scam, which involves scammers claiming a “concerned family member” ordered the service for them and they'll need to make payment. The scam artist will request credit card of banking information, never to be heard from again.

Two of the scariest out there are scams that use fear and intimidation as motivation to send money. The emergency scam and arrest scam try to catch seniors off guard so they can get victims to send money immediately to waiting scam artists.

The emergency scam involves the scam artist waking the grandparent in the middle of the night claiming their relative, most often a grandchild, has been injured, arrested or robbed overseas and they need money sent immediately to help.

The arrest scam works in a similar fashion with the scam artist using fear and intimidation as they pose as a government official and threaten arrest because of overdue taxes or skipping out on jury duty, which can only be avoided through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The Internal Revenue Service has also warned about his scam, saying an IRS agent will never call your home demanding banking information, pre-paid debit cards or transfers.

Education is really the best and only way to combat the scams. Unfortunately, because there is no way to track the money once it's gone, the scammers often get away unpunished.

For family members or friends caring for senior citizens, it’s important to check on them frequently and discuss their activities. If you have access to do so, review bank statements for unusual withdrawals or charges, look for signs that senior may be succumbing to scam artists such as excessive knick-knacks and prizes around the house, regular use of couriers rather then the postal service and frequent calls from a “nice” man or lady.

—Submitted by the Unit I Elder Committee

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Photo by Ken Bosma / CC BY