Scammers pulling tricks on seniors are no treat for the adult children charged with taking care of their aging parents. One in five people in the U.S. over the age of 65 report having fallen victim to some form of financial fraud, to the tune of almost $3 billion a year. And those numbers don’t show any sign of slowing down according to True Link Financial, a service that helps boomers protect their elderly parents from financial exploitation, fraudulent transactions, and predatory marketing practices.
“Our experts are constantly monitoring the latest tricks and tactics that scammers use to take advantage of the elderly,” explains True Link founder and CEO Kai Stinchcombe. “It’s not just the Nigerian lottery or someone pretending to be a grandchild calling for money in the middle of the night anymore. Today the bad guys are getting more creative and more bold.”
Below is a list of some of the newest and fastest growing scams True Link’s fraud monitors are tracking right now.
Buyers Club Scam
This scam targets retirees looking to vacation. A senior is offered a very low-priced cruise, but told they have to enroll in a free trial of a “buyers club” to qualify for the deal. Once they enroll, the cruise is no longer available, and within as few as seven days they are charged the first monthly membership fee. Even if they never use any of the offers, they keep getting charged, and it’s often extremely difficult to cancel the membership. Retired seniors have the spare time and spare cash to travel, and these scammers take advantage of the desire to find a good deal.
The Blessing Scam
The blessing scam, also called the “ghost scam” or “jewelry scam,” is a confidence trick typically perpetrated against elderly women in predominantly Chinese communities. The objective of the scam is to persuade the victim to put valuables into a bag that will then be “blessed” by someone posing as a psychic or healer. Unbeknownst to the victim, the bag of valuables gets swapped for a bag of junk during the ceremony. The “healer” tells the victim not to open the bag for several days. So by the time the victim realizes they’ve been duped, the “healer” is long gone.
As more and more people of all ages have become comfortable with online dating, the scammers have followed. This scam plays out online much as it plays out in the real world. Dad, recently widowed, might start talking about his new “friend” whom he met. She is beautiful and fun and exactly fits the profile of the type of person he would like to meet. This new “friend” will generally play along for some time before they start asking their mark for money. It could be that they want to come visit but cannot afford the flight, or they need help to clear a debt, or help a dear relative. When they ask for money, they will often ask for it in un-traceable ways, like a money order, or a single-use prepaid card.
In this scam, the senior receives a call or letter that appears to be from a government agency. The caller might inform them that they need to pay a fee to comply with a new immigration law or that they need to provide personal information to collect their stimulus check. The request often seems plausible because it’s related to issues the senior has heard about recently in the news. While the details vary in each case, these scams almost always include a very tight deadline and references to recent legislation or news stories. Fraudsters prey on the fact that seniors may be more trusting of people claiming to represent government agencies and on their fear of jeopardizing their legal status or losing their health coverage.
Obituaries/Uncollected Debt Scam
Scammers troll the obituary sections of small-town newspapers looking for a recent death leaving behind a widow. They then call that widow and tell her that her recently deceased husband had thousands of dollars in unpaid debt that is now due. They’ll go so far as to threaten financial ruin, eviction, and the public shaming, unless the debt is paid very rapidly. This is particularly effective in cases where the widow’s late husband handled most of the family finances. Scammers target their victim in the days immediately following her husband’s death when she’s likely to be more vulnerable, confused, and stressed.
“In almost all of these cases, any further investigation into the claim of the scammer will expose that it is a lie,” says Stinchcombe, whose company, True Link (http://www.truelinkfinancial.com) offers a service that enables caregivers to prevent such financial exploitation. If a senior were to try to pull out large sums of cash to pay one of the scammers, either the transaction would be blocked or a caregiver would be notified about the activity. “This is why it’s very important for families to try and maintain and open dialogue about money.”
About True Link
True Link protects elderly and cognitively impaired people from scams, fraud, and financial exploitation by providing them with a safe form of payment to make daily purchases. Family caregivers set up and use True Link’s service to monitor their loved ones’ spending and prevent unwanted purchases from pushy telemarketers, predatory mail solicitations, or sweepstakes scams. The company is based in San Francisco. Learn more at