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Money Matters
Senior Health

The "Silver Scams" that Target Seniors

If you are over 65, you probably grew up in an era when business was done with a firm handshake; unfortunately, crooks today are playing on that trust.

The Federal Trade Commission says that fraud complaints to its offices by individuals 60 and older rose at least 47 percent between 2012 and 2014. Seniors are the predominant victims of impostor schemes, where criminals pose as authority figures and claim that money is owed. They also are hit hard by scams involving prizes, sweepstakes and gifts.

Here, Synergy Home Care (www.synergyhomecare.) identifies eight of the most common scams that target seniors, along with the common warning signs of each scam and information on how you can avoid becoming a victim.

Contractor Fraud

How It Works

A handyman shows up at your home unsolicited and offers to do repairs at a very reasonable rate. No contracts are signed, and no references are checked. The so-called handyman asks you for money upfront to pay for supplies. He begins the work but then disappears with the money, leaving the job unfinished and you with more household problems than before.

How to Avoid It

  • Always ask for references.
  • Ask to see their license and insurance documents. Contractors need to have a license and insurance to do work.
  • In many cases, permits need to be pulled before any work commences. Do not let someone start work on your home without checking to see if a permit is required.
  • Never give any money upfront, especially cash that can’t be traced.

Romance Scam

How It Works

Scammers often play on your loneliness. They can break your heart and your bank account. Typically, you would meet the con artist through a social networking or dating site. The scammer, who will say that they are in another city or country, will then proceed to build a relationship with you.

The con artist will eventually state they want to meet you in person. Around this time, the criminal will seek assistance from you in covering travel costs. A variation on this theme includes the criminal asking you to send money to help them visit a sick relative. Of course, the requests for help are all a scam, and the money you wired is now in the hands of the con artist.

How to Avoid It

  • Be suspicious when someone you haven’t met professes their love.
  • Never send money for any reason to someone you haven’t met.
  • Be cautious when conversing with an individual that claims to live close to you but is working overseas; this is a setup for the fraudster to provide numerous reasons to ask for money.
  • If you receive a check or other form of payment from someone you’ve met online, and they ask you to cash it and send a portion of the funds back to them, don’t do it.


How It Works

Phishing is the act of sending an email falsely claiming to be a legitimate business in an attempt to trick you into divulging personal information, such as passwords, credit card numbers and bank account information. The emails are usually very realistic, with company logos, links and branding. These emails sometimes include a link to a fake website set up to steal your information. Other emails include attachments that, when opened, install malware on your computer in order for hackers to steal your personal information.

How to Avoid It

  • Your bank will never send you an email or call you on the phone asking you to disclose personal information, such as your credit card number, online banking password or your mother’s maiden name. They already have that information.
  • Be suspicious of unsolicited emails that have a sense of urgency and warnings that your accounts will be closed or your access limited if you don’t reply.
  • Fraudulent emails are typically not personalized and instead are addressed in general terms, such as “Dear loyal customer.”
  • If you receive an email notifying you that an email money transfer is being sent from a person you don’t know, delete the email, as it is likely fraudulent.
  • Report any fraudulent emails you receive to the bank or other company being falsely represented.

Grandparent Scam

How It Works

In a grandparent scam, a scammer calls or emails you and poses as a grandchild in legal trouble or as someone claiming to represent the relative (such as a lawyer or law enforcement agent). Using Facebook and other social media sites, the scammer will know just enough information, such as where your grandkids live, where they are vacationing or other personal details and use this information to convince you that this is your relative. You are then instructed to wire money to the scam artist with the claim that the funds will be used for bail money, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills or other expenses. You are also urged not to tell anyone, such as the parent of the “grandchild.”

How to Avoid It

  • Never offer information to the caller. If they prompt you with a question like, “Do you know who this is?” simply say “no” and have them identify themselves.
  • Press your caller for details. Ask them questions about their specific location or have them repeat their story. A criminal will have a hard time recalling details or coming up with them on the spot.
  • Ask the caller a few personal questions that a real grandchild could answer but an imposter could not.
  • After you hang up, verify the story by calling the parents or other relatives of the “grandchild.”
  • Never wire money to someone under uncertain conditions. It is nearly impossible to recover or trace money that has been wired. 

Overpayment Scams

How It Works

The overpayment scam targets people selling items online on websites such as Craigslist and eBay. If you were selling an item online, the potential buyer would offer to pay you more money than the agreed price. At the time of transaction, they’ll send a real cashier’s check that has no monetary value tied to it. Or they’ll send a fake PayPal email that requires you to show a “shipping/tracking number” before the funds are transferred. By the time you’ve sent the item, it’s too late.

How to Avoid It

  • Never send out any items until payments clear. Once you lose possession of the item, you no longer have any leverage with the buyer.
  • Always report these offers of overpayment to the website where you are selling your item.

Medicare Scams

How It Works

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 your personal information, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers. You might be given any number of excuses to provide this information, including an error that needs to be fixed, that you are part of a survey or eligible to receive free products, or can sign up for a new prescription drug plan. Medicare will never call you to ask for personal financial information.

How to Avoid It

  • Never sign blank insurance claim forms or give a medical provider a blanket authorization to bill for services rendered.
  • Ask your medical providers what they will charge and what you will be expected to pay out-of-pocket.
  • Do not do business with door-to-door or telephone salespeople who tell you that services or medical equipment are free.
  • Keep records of all health care appointments.
  • Keep track of what medical equipment your physician has ordered for you. 

Bogus Charities

How It Works

Many charities depend on the generosity and donations of individuals, and seniors are some of the most giving people. Unfortunately, some crooks take advantage of your generosity. Heart-breaking appeals are used with high pressure tactics to force you to make quick decisions and big donations with little detail about the charity and how it operates.

How to Avoid It

  • Before you make any donation, do research on the charity or cause.
  • Ask for written information, and read it carefully before giving money.
  • Find out how the contribution will be used, and ask if the donation is tax deductible.
  • Contributions by cash are impossible to trace, so pay by check.
  • If you have doubts about a charity, contact the office of the attorney general in

your state.

Prize Award Calls and Mail

How It Works

You may get a phone call from someone claiming you have won a prize, such as a vacation or a lottery. Sometimes you may get a notice in the mail. To claim your prize, there are often costly strings attached.

How to Avoid It

Look for these red flags:

  • In order to claim the prize, you must purchase a product, pay a processing fee or pay taxes.
  • Request for a credit card number, checking account number or a Social Security number.
  • Often your money must be sent by overnight delivery to a company in another state or country.
  • Make sure you report the call or mail to the office of the attorney general in your state.

To find out who is the Attorney General in your own state visit this website, click here :

Don’t Stay Silent, Report It

It is estimated that only one in 100 cases of fraud among seniors is reported. Many seniors are just too embarrassed to reveal they’ve been duped. Other times they don’t know where to go to report the crime. If you’ve been a victim of fraud, don’t stay silent — report it.

You should keep the phone numbers of the local police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts) and Adult Protective Services on hand. To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website:

SYNERGY HomeCare is a national franchise of non-medical home care dedicated to providing exceptional and affordable service to anyone of any age. SYNERGY HomeCare caregivers are available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, to those in need — including seniors, expectant moms, those suffering from sports injuries and debilitating illnesses, and more.  For additional information, please visit




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