3 telephone scams seniors should know about

Seniors are frequently targeted by con artists looking to make a quick buck. While these tricky thieves use clever tactics to get older adults to reveal important financial information, seniors have begun to outsmart these scammers by picking up on recurring trends.

Professional scammers seek to trick people into giving away information by using a variety of multimedia platforms, including the telephone and the Internet. Telephone scams are among the most common that target seniors, as thieves know that older adults are generally more willing to speak over the phone than younger adults.

While seniors may not be able to prevent being targeted by scammers, they can employ their greatest weapon against these con artists: knowledge. Here are the most common scams and tips on how to avoid falling victim to them:

1. You’ve won a free trip!
The set-up: You’ve received a phone call from an organization telling you that you have been selected to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to an exotic location. Scammers choose stores or companies that may be near your area, so chances are, you’ll recognize the business’ name. To redeem your prize, you must provide the agency with your credit card information.

The payoff: Depending on the scam, the caller will provide a different reason for requiring your financial information – sometimes they say you need to make a small down payment; others tell you they plan to wire you funds to cover transportation and lodging. Either way, the thief has effectively obtained your financial information and is now free to use your card as they see fit.

How to prevent theft: No matter what prizes you are offered over the telephone, NEVER give out financial information, especially if you have suspicions about the caller. Generally, no agencies will require you to pay funds up front if you have won a vacation package, so if the caller is requesting this information, that should be a red flag. If you suspect you may have been contacted by a scammer, contact local police officials to report the call. Officers can not only verify the caller, but they can tell you if other people in the area have been targeted by a similar scam.

2. The grandparents scam
The set-up: A senior will receive a telephone call from a person claiming to be an estranged relative – typically a grandchild – who has found him or herself in financial trouble. The caller may say they’re stuck in a foreign country with no money or that they need a set amount of cash to make a bill payment, but they will request that the senior reveals financial information over the phone or sends money in the mail.

The payoff: By feeding off the senior’s desire to ensure his or her family is safe, the scammer effectively gains either access to the person’s bank account or cash from the victim.

How to prevent theft: As a general rule of thumb, seniors should never answer calls from unknown numbers. If, however, you’ve been contacted by a potential scammer, the best way to prevent falling victim to this crime is by making the caller answer a series of questions that only a true relative could answer. Ask him or her to tell you what your middle name is, or a question about a mutual family member only that relative could answer. Do not be fooled by emotional pleas, especially if you do not recognize the name or voice of the caller.

A common variation of this scam is known as “The Fake Accident Ploy,” according to the National Council on Aging. A caller will let the senior know that they are a friend of a relative who was recently put in the hospital, and that person requires money to cover medical fees. If you receive a similar call, be sure to get the name of the medical institution and call them directly to corroborate the story. Never give financial information to a stranger over the telephone, especially if you suspect their story is false.

3. The charity con
The set-up: Posing as a disaster relief agency or other well-known charitable organization, the caller tugs at a person’s heartstrings by asking for money to support those in need. Generally, scammers use this tactic directly following a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or flood affecting a certain region.

The payoff: Whether the thief asks the senior to give out his or her credit card over the phone or provide a fake address for donations, the caller has effectively secured funds from the person.

How to prevent theft: The Toronto Police Department recommends that seniors who receive similar phone calls should not make donations over the telephone when contacted by an organization. Instead, they should take the company’s name and deliver funds directly. However, before seniors give any funds to these organizations, they should verify the charity’s identity by searching for the institution online or speaking with local law enforcement officials to ensure it is not fake.