4 Types of Con Artists Targeting Your Grandparents

Consumer protection, Crime

Con artists often target senior citizens, for a variety of reasons. According to the FBI, cons exploit the fact that older generations were generally raised to be polite and trusting, which makes it harder for them to hang up the phone, say “no,” or slam the door in someone’s face. Grandma is an attractive target for con artists also because she is more likely to have money in savings and excellent credit than her grandchildren.

What’s unfortunate is that seniors may be less likely to report a fraud, either because they don’t realize they have been conned or because they are embarrassed at being susceptible.

Savvy criminals come up with new ways to defraud people all the time, but here are some of the scams to watch out for, for yourself or for older friends and relatives:

Telemarketing Fraud

The National Crime Prevention Council says telemarketing fraudsters direct at least half, and possibly up to 80 percent, of their calls at seniors. These scams often involve offers of free vacations, low-cost health care products, or sweepstake winnings.  Scammers will ask for credit card numbers to “guarantee” deals  or to pay for shipping and handling of supposed prizes, and then use those numbers to defraud their victims. Fortunately, there are quite a few tip-offs to help you recognize this kind of scam. Be on alert if a telemarketer:

  • Requests Social Security numbers, bank account information, or credit card numbers
  • Offers an “unbelievable deal” or “limited time offer” and pressures you to make an immediate commitment
  • Asks for payment for services in advance
  • Wants you to pay postage on a prize or sample offer
  • Is evasive or refuses requests for written information

Reverse Mortgage Scams

Reverse mortgages, also known as home equity conversion mortgages (HECMs), have increased a thousandfold since 1999, creating a ripe opportunity for con artists. HECMs legitimately allow homeowners over age 62 to access the equity in their homes without incurring a monthly payment. The scams steal the equity of a mortgaged property, or use victims to unwittingly act as buyers in property flipping scams, targeting seniors who are more likely to own their homes or have a fairly small balance on their mortgages. They may be targeted, according to the FBI, through local churches and investment seminars, radio or billboard advertisements, or advertising flyers. To avoid falling victim to a reverse mortgage scam:

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited advertisements  or sales calls.
  • Do not sign any mortgage papers without full understanding of the contents.
  • Do not accept payment for a home you did not purchase.
  • If you are interested in a reverse mortgage, research local providers and ask for recommendations from friends and family members, or check with the local Better Business Bureau

Health Care and Insurance Fraud

Seniors are also a prime target for scams involving health care, health insurance, and Medicare. There are several different types of frauds run by these scammers, including:

  • Medical equipment fraud: Equipment manufacturers will offer medical equipment, “free” and unsolicited, to an individual. They then attempt to charge insurance companies for products that were not needed or may not even have been delivered.
  • Lab scams: Unnecessary tests, likely fake or inaccurate, may be given to seniors at health clubs, retirement homes, or shopping malls and billed to insurance companies or Medicare.
  • Services not provided: Unscrupulous providers may charge insurers for tests or services that were never performed, by altering insurance forms or submitting fake bills.
  • Medicare fraud: Manufactures will offer seniors free equipment or products in exchange for their Medicare numbers. They will fake doctor’s orders on Medicare forms for the service or product, then bill Medicare.

Funeral Fraud

The funeral industry rakes in some $15 billion a year. That kind of money inevitably attracts con artists, and unbelievably, some will take advantage of an elderly person’s concerns about death to defraud them out of their money.  Seniors who want to plan for their own funerals can fall prey to huge mark-ups on caskets, fraudulent “pre-pay” funeral schemes, or unknowingly purchase non-existent cemetery plots. Bereaved widows or widowers may be pressured to make emotional decisions in the wake of a spouse’s death, sold services they don’t need (such as embalming before a cremation), and be quoted inflated pricing.

FTC regulations require funeral homes to provide price lists on demand, so be sure to ask – and shop around.  Unscrupulous funeral providers rely on your emotional distress to get away with mark-ups on caskets or charging for services you can do yourself for free. It’s a good idea to bring a friend along who is not as emotionally invested, to provide a second opinion or alert you to anything that seems suspicious. If a funeral director doesn’t provide a price list, or are evasive about pricing, should raise a red flag.