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Elder Fraud Continues to Target the Most Vulnerable

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish

 

By Catherine Blinder

A new scam has recently hit the news – and it is clearly targeted toward older consumers.

Leaflets have been sent to residents across the state that offer subsidies for knee or neck braces, hearing aids, diabetes testing and Medicare benefits GAP coverage. The flyers are titled “Connecticut Resident Health and Wellness Benefits Notice” and include the State Seal.

When residents called the numbers included in the flyer, they were asked for personal information including social security numbers and Medicare numbers.

“Although the phone numbers have been taken out of circulation, this scam serves to remind consumers to be wary of unsolicited requests that require giving out personal information,” said Commissioner Jonathan A. Harris, adding, “An official looking seal can be easily copied and used by scammers.”

Every year, 7.3 million older adults, 20 percent of older Americans, are victimized by financial abuse or identity theft. Why are older adults targeted?

As people age, they often pride themselves on making good decisions and being a good judge of character. Scam artists, however, are highly skilled at fooling even savvy consumers. For those who live alone and have infrequent contact with people other than their caregivers, it can be lonely and isolating. Someone calling them and showing an interest in their well-being can easily take advantage of this loneliness.

Older individuals also have a higher incidence of cognitive impairments, which can lead to bad financial decisions.

Because older adults tend to have more money and better credit than younger people, having worked hard and saved their entire lives, it makes them even more attractive to scam artists who may attempt to get them to “invest” in risky or fraudulent schemes. Most never see that high return or their original “investment” again.

Finally, older adults are also less likely to report scams, fearing retribution or judgment by family members, friends and others, and feeling embarrassed that they were so gullible.

And that’s what scam artists look for – vulnerable people who can be swayed by promises of a good deal or easy money. Sadly, not only do these promises never come true, but also for those who are older or retired, the loss of savings can be devastating because there is less opportunity to recover those losses.

If you have older adults in your family, or neighbors who might need a hand, talk to them about ways to avoid falling for scams and fraudulent investment offers.

Telemarketing scams and mail fraud

  • If someone comes to your door, tell him or her you need time to think about the offer and talk to others.
  • Always ask for, and wait until you receive, written material about any offer or charity. Read it and understand it yourself, or with the help of a friend, before making any commitment.
  • Obtain a salesperson’s name, business identity, telephone number, address and business license number and verify that they are legitimate before you transact business.
  • Do not buy anything or to send money over the telephone, even if they claim to be a relative in need. Just say NO.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Medicare/Medicaid Fraud and Abuse

  • Protect your Medicare number as you do your credit card numbers and do not allow anyone else to use it.
  • Be wary of salespeople trying to sell you something they claim will be paid for by Medicare.
  • Do not give away personal information to sales people, or as a follow up to anything you receive in the mail.
  • Do not call numbers listed on unsolicited mail, or in response to voice mails that tell you to call back at risk of penalty.
  • Never be afraid to say NO.

If you have received one of these mailers or know someone who has, please report them to the Department of Consumer Protection, 800-842-2649, or the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker – www.bbb.org/scamtracker/Connecticut.

Some other resources in addition to the State Department of Consumer Protection:

www.uaelderlaw.org/scams.htm

www.elderabusecenter.org

www.ncoa.org/SavvySeniors.

www.eldercare.gov.

www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0030-pass-it-on

This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection for the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, call (860) 713-6300 or visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.

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