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The top five scams aimed at seniors

by Shannon Lee

Scam artists love to target the elderly. Seniors can easily fall victim to scams that prey on their emotions in an effort to drain their bank account. Here's how to protect yourself!

Seniors are often prime targets for scam artists. Older adults might not realize they have been scammed, or don't speak up because they are ashamed of being "suckered" by someone out to get their money. Some are afraid to report the scam, feeling it might be a sign of mental incompetence.

But scams are very common, and even the smartest people can get pulled in. These scams are a few of the more popular ones that target the elderly.

Health Insurance and Prescription Drug Scams

There are several types of health insurance fraud, and many of the schemes target those on Medicare or Medicaid. Bogus tests might be offered at shopping centers or health clubs and then billed to insurance, or prescription drugs ordered over the Internet might not be medication at all--you wind up paying the full amount for nothing more than a placebo.

Funeral and Cemetery Fraud

Some funeral homes may try to charge for services that are not required. For instance, purchasing a casket or being embalmed are not requirements for direct cremation, but some funeral homes may try to convince you that they are. Disreputable cemeteries may try to sell plots that are already taken and pocket your pre-paid money before you learn of the deception.

Telemarketing Scams

Phone calls that promise luxurious vacations, deep discounts on medical supplies, or large prizes are probably scams. These cons are dedicated to getting financial information, such as a credit card number or bank account number. Once they have it, they can steal large amounts of money and claim it was legitimate.

Empty Promises of Cures

Products that promise cures for serious medical problems might be the most unsavory scams of all. They prey on vulnerability and hope, ensuring something that is simply too good to be true. If a "secret formula" seems the answer to all your problems, it is probably a well-laid scam.

Investment Scams

Seniors who have saved well over the years might find their nest egg depleted by investment scams. If high returns are "guaranteed" or you have to pay a fee up-front to obtain information, beware! A hallmark of investment schemes is the "proof" of individuals who have earned great dividends--but as the scheme plays out, those who are snared later wind up losing money.

How to Avoid Scams

Steer clear of scams with these helpful tips:

  • Invest your money only with reputable firms, and deal with them in person.
  • Never accept "free" medical equipment from anyone other than your physician.
  • Always purchase drugs from a reputable pharmacy, and inspect the labeling every time.
  • When making advance funeral arrangements, shop around for the best deal.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, don't purchase it!
  • Don't be pressured into signing anything.
  • Don't listen to threats from telemarketers. If they are too aggressive or even too friendly, say goodbye and hang up the phone.
  • Never give personal or banking information over the phone.
  • If you aren't familiar with a particular company, check them out with the Better Business Bureau.

Most importantly, listen to your gut. If the situation seems a little strange, it probably is--and you should keep your distance.