What you'll find on this page:
Financial crimes by strangers
There are a variety of schemes that fall into this category including investment schemes, fake prize notifications, aggressive telemarketing, health products, and fraudulent home repairs. Almost half of the crimes are financial in nature and all exploit the vulnerability of seniors.
Some of the factors that increase the susceptibility of seniors include:
- Ownership of a home
- A tendency to not seek advice before making a purchase
- Risky financial behaviour
- Lack of knowledge about consumer rights
- Little or no awareness about fraud schemes
- An openness to marketing appeals
- A reluctance to hang up the phone on telemarketers
Scammers use a variety of tactics to gain the trust and consent of their targets. Often perpetrators try to isolate the victim, exert pressure to induce a quick response or action, and discouraging them from seeking advice from others. Scammers are motivated by money, and for some, by the sense of power achieved by taking advantage of an educated or well off victim.
Protecting seniors from fraud
Whether you are a senior or a caregiver, learning to recognize the signs of fraud plays an important role in protecting yourself and others from becoming a victim of a con artist.
- Look for warning signs of possible consumer fraud. If you are a caregiver for a senior, check their mailbox to see if there is a large volume of unsolicited mail, especially those congratulating the recipient on winning a prize. In addition, if possible, check their phone log to see if there are numerous calls offering prizes or investment opportunities. Think about getting call display and putting a sign on the mailbox requesting that you not receive unsolicited mail.
- Have regular conversations about fraud. Talk openly with family about any kind of fraud you read or hear about, and what steps you can take to avoid falling victim to these schemes. The more you know about fraud, the more discerning you’ll be about the activities around you.
- Remove the shame of fraud. Talking openly about becoming more vulnerable as we age can be an uncomfortable discussion. It can also result in reducing the shame associated with being a victim and bring it out of the shadows and into the open, thereby reducing the power of the perpetrators who want to keep their activities a secret.
- Avoid isolation – keep connecting and communicating. Perpetrators of senior fraud rely on a degree of social isolation in order to gain the trust of their target. Talk openly about vulnerability and the need to protect yourself, especially as you get older, from people who may have fraudulent intentions. Remove the shame, and encourage them to be open to discussions about fraud attempts, or any contact that seems out of the ordinary.
- Ensure there are legal safeguards in place to avoid financial misuse. If you assist a senior in managing their finances, there are several safeguards you can put in place to help prevent financial misuse:
- Set security protocols on financial transactions like direct deposits, automating payments,
- Set limits on daily, weekly or monthly withdrawals
- Institute an additional signature on investment withdrawals
- Do not engage with telemarketers and door-to-door salespeople. Telemarketing and door-to-door canvassing are daily occurrences. Whether you’re a senior or not, make it a family policy to refuse to engage with sales calls or anyone who comes to the door selling or seeking donations. Don’t be afraid to say no and hang up the phone or close the door.
Look for signs of financial changes. As a caregiver, talk with the seniors in your life about the importance of reviewing their bank statements, invoices, and credit card statements to look for unusual activity. Sudden difficulty or challenges meeting existing expenses could be a sign of problem, especially if you are not aware of any additional expenses or increases in fees.
Financial scams that target seniors
Seniors are often the target of frauds especially for products, services, and finances. Here are 10 schemes that commonly target seniors, and a great starting point for conversations with loved ones about how to prevent fraud.
Health care, health insurance fraud: Fraudsters aim to get personal information from seniors by promising fake services, and then use the information you provide to bill for other services and expenses. Ask family, friends, or your doctor’s office about these service providers and if not, ask for recommendations.
Counterfeit prescription drugs: When seniors search for prices, websites offer unusually low prices for specialized or medicines not covered by provincial or private plans. The result can be counterfeit or incorrect medications that can be a waste of money, or worse, potentially harmful to their health. A good suggestion is to call your pharmacist and inquire about the manufacturer and the medicine to see if they have additional knowledge they can share.
Funeral and cemetery fraud: Scammers review the obituaries and contact the grieving widow or widower claiming the deceased owes money on an outstanding debt. Alternatively, disreputable funeral homes prey on the vulnerability of a grieving spouse by billing extra for unnecessary fees or services. Don’t make these decisions on your own. Seek advice from family, friends or a religious leader on organizations that are reputable such as funeral homes and related services.
Fraudulent anti-aging products: There is no fountain of youth, but there is big money is selling anti-aging treatments and homeopathic remedies to seniors, all with the promise of staying young. It is best to be skeptical about these products and the companies who sell them. Make sure you know how to contact the company and carefully read the fine print. It could simply be a waste of money, or the start of a scam.
Telemarketing: Did you know that seniors make twice as many purchases through the phone than average? Since there are no records of the conversation or face-to-face contact, this can be difficult to trace. Worse yet, scammers often sell lists of targets who have already fallen prey. If you feel uncomfortable with the aggressive sales tactics, or feel rushed to make a decision, trust you intuition and hang up the phone.
Internet fraud: The majority of internet fraud occurs through computer viruses that open the computer to scammers. Do not click on links or pop-up when you browsing the internet and keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. Legitimate companies will not contact you with this kind of information. Never give anyone remote access to your computer. If you are having problems with your system, bring it to a local technician.
Investment schemes: This is a particularly vulnerable time for seniors to become a target for investment scams. Many live on a budget, and the promise of high returns on investments can be difficult to turn down. The higher the risk, the higher the return, so if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Homeowner/ reverse mortgages: The market for reverse mortgages has boomed, but there are scammers who prey on seniors. In these cases, the scammer targets unsecured reverse mortgages and offers money or a free house in exchange for the title to the property. Of course, there is no house and no money, leaving the homeowner without a property.
Grandparent scam: A scammer, posing as a family member, calls a senior claiming to be their grandchild in need of immediate financial help and asks for money to be sent to them through a wire transfer service, such as Western Union. Read more about wire transfer scams.
Romance scams: Scammers create fake dating profiles, or connect through email to entice someone to enter a virtual relationship with them. Once they have gained the trust of their mark, the scam artist will request money, travel, gifts or financial help with a family emergency. Talk to somebody, and pay attention if your family and friends are concerned, especially if the scammer has asked you not to talk about your relationship. Read more about protecting yourself from romance scams.