Financial scams are a risk for everyone. They come in a broad array of scenarios, by telephone, by mail, by computer, and at the front door. Older people are attractive targets for scammers because they are likely to have savings and are likely to be more trusting of others. Vulnerable adult victims of financial scams are unlikely ever to be able to make up the lost dollars. And like financial exploitation in general, victims of scams suffer consequences beyond irreplaceable money. Physical health, emotional well-being, care and housing often suffer too.
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a watchdog agency that issues many resources to combat financial exploitation and scams, especially those that target vulnerable populations.
The following list of common scams and indicators comes from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
Relative in need
Someone who pretends to be a family member or friend calls or e-mails you to say they are in trouble and need you to wire money right away.
You get a call or letter from someone asking for money for a fake charity—either the charity does not exist or the charity did not call or write to you.
Lottery or sweepstakes
You get a call or e-mail that you have a chance to win a lot of money through a foreign country’s sweepstakes or lottery. The caller will offer tips about how to win if you pay a fee or buy something. Or the caller or e-mail says you already have won and you must give your bank account information or pay a fee to collect your winnings.
Scammers take money for repairs and then they never return to do the work or they do bad work. Sometimes they break something to create more work or they say that things need work when they don’t.
Scammers invite you to a free lunch and seminar, and then pressure you to give them information about your money, and to invest the money with them. They offer you “tips” or “guaranteed returns.”
Scammers say you’ve won a free trip but they ask for a credit card number or advance cash to hold the reservation
You get a call or letter that seems to be from a government agency. Scammers say that if you give a credit card number or send a money order, you can apply for government help with housing, home repairs, utilities, or taxes.
Scammers pretend they are with Medicare prescription drug plans, and try to sell Medicare discount drug cards that are not valid. Companies with Medicare drug plans are not allowed to send unsolicited mail, emails, or phone calls.
Scammers steal personal information—such as a name, date of birth, Social Security number, account number, and mother’s maiden name—and use the information to open credit cards or get a mortgage in someone else’s name.
Fake “official” mail
Scammers send letters or e-mails that look like they are from a legitimate bank, business, or agency to try to get your personal information or bank account number.
- The victim receives news about a prize or other windfall that requires payment of fees or taxes up front.
- The victim is pressured to keep “good” news a secret until a transaction is complete or risk losing out on this one-time opportunity.
- A caller constantly seeks more information and pressures the victim to comply.
- A third party claims to be from a government agency, financial institution or other entity and asks for personal information and numbers.
- A victim receives mail or email for sweepstakes, contests or other sources suggesting that he or she has already been scammed.