Scams often target senior citizens



Fraud targeting senior citizens is a growing concern because millions have fallen victim to scammers. The Better Business Bureau encourages families to keep the lines of communication open with their elders regarding finances and to recognize some common cons targeting senior citizens.

According to a June 2010 survey by Investor Protection Trust, more than 7.3 million senior citizens -- about 20 percent of Americans 65 or older -- have "been taken advantage of financially in terms of an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or outright fraud." BBB warns against three scams that target senior citizens:

SWEEPSTAKES AND LOTTERY SCAMS: Typically, the victim receives a letter stating that he or she has won a lottery or sweepstakes; it might even claim to be from Publisher's Clearing House or Reader's Digest. The letter instructs the victim to deposit an enclosed check and then wire a portion back to the company to cover taxes or fees. The victim is out whatever was wired to the scammers -- often thousands of dollars.

BBB ADVICE: Never wire money to someone you don't know. You should never have to send money to receive winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes.

MEDICARE SCAMS: Navigating the Medicare system isn't easy, and some scammers will look for any opportunity to take advantage of the confusion. Commonly, a scammer will claim to be with Medicare and ask for personal information such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers. The victim might be given any number of excuses to provide this information, including that an error needs to be fixed, that he or she is part of a survey or eligible to receive free products or can sign up for a new prescription drug plan.

BBB ADVICE: Remind your elderly family members that Medicare will never call to ask for personal financial information. If you suspect fraud, contact police or the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General at (800) 447-8477.

BEREAVEMENT SCAMS: Scammers will often try to take advantage of the increased vulnerability of senior citizens who have recently lost a loved one, such as a spouse.

In one recent example, a mother and daughter team in Ohio would find targets by scouring the obituaries. They would then call the widow or widower and claim that the spouse had outstanding debts that needed to be paid immediately. Victims would then provide a blank check or credit card.

BBB ADVICE: Offer help to family members if they have lost a loved one and are inexperienced in managing finances. When collectors call, ask for written confirmation of the debt.

Reach Kelvin Collins, the president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., at (800) 763-4222 or