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By Catherine Blinder
Every year, 7.3 million older adults, 20 percent of older Americans, are victimized by financial abuse. 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 besides 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 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.
Here are some common ways to avoid some typical scams:
Home Repair or Contractor Fraud
Take the time to shop around before making a purchase. Get at least three references for contractors that have done the same type of work you need.
Before interviewing contractors and getting prices, be sure they are registered with the Department of Consumer Protection by searching at www.elicense.ct.gov/ or by calling 800-842-2649.
Always get copies of certificates of Insurance for liability and workers’ compensation.
Get a full written contract for the job that contains all terms required by Connecticut law (for details, call 860-713-6110), which both you and the contractor sign and date. Make sure you understand all contract cancellation and refund terms.
Include a payment schedule that has you pay some money up front, some when the work is in process and a final payment once all the work is done to your satisfaction.
Do not allow yourself to be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts or committing funds.
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 send money over the telephone, even if the caller claims 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
Call the Medicare contractor’s phone number on the bottom of the notice or contact the State Health Information Assistance Program (https://www.ctdssmap.com) if you have a question about the services listed on your notice.
Also check MSN to see if the provider is billing for exactly what was provided, not for a more complicated or expensive service.
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.
Report suspicious activities to 1-800-MEDICARE.
Some other resources in addition to the State Department of Consumer Protection:
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.