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Seniors, Don't Fall for These Online Scams!

Some advice on avoiding scams that prey on seniors

According to the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center in Washington DC, increasingly, seniors are being targeted by con artists, and their preferred medium, as it has been for the past several years, is the Internet. In 2010, consumers over 65 had the highest increase in number of complaints.

Sadly, because older people tend to be generous, and because they may not be as technologically savvy as their grandkids, more than 7.3 million senior citizens—roughly 20 percent of Americans aged 65 or older-- have "been taken advantage of financially in terms of an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or outright fraud,” according to a June 2010 survey by Investor Protection Trust. Worse, once they realize they've been scammed, many seniors keep it to themselves out of shame—and fear that others will think that they can't care for themselves.

Some top scams to look out for include:

Charity Scams

If a charity emails you out of the blue, chances are it’s a scam. Unless you have opted in to receive their emails, they shouldn’t be in your inbox at all. Investigate the charity if you have never heard of them before. Charity Navigator is a great resource for doing just that.

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

While the prices may seem too good to be true, do not purchase your prescriptions from unlicensed online distributors or those who sell medications without a prescription. Reputable online pharmacies will have a seal of approval called the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS), provided by the Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the United States.

Phony Emails (also known as Phishing or Spoofing)

Beware of emails from what might look like your bank or investment firm asking for your Social Security number or account numbers. Phony Bank of America and Citibank messages are common. One prevalent scheme is an email promising you a tax refund from the IRS—but the IRS doesn’t email taxpayers!

Timeshare Resale Services

The Internet scammer will collect an upfront fee to sell your timeshare—but never perform the service.

Wire Transfer Scams

No matter the excuse the scammer gives you, never wire money. You have no way of getting your money once a transfer has been made. Because it’s such an unsafe way for consumers to pay for transactions, wire transfer remains the payment of choice for scammers. In fact, over 2 in 5 of consumers who reported losses say they sent money via wire transfer.

Prize and Sweepstakes Scams

You should never have to pay to claim a "prize" or "free" gift. You might get a cheap gift worth far less than what you paid, or you may get nothing at all.

Tips to Prevent Scams and Fraud

  • Never give away money or personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or Social Security numbers to unknown persons.
  • Check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau or the National Fraud Information Center.
  • Talk to family and friends or call your lawyer, accountant or banker and get their advice before you make any large purchase or investment online or over the phone.
  • Remember that despite our increasingly digital society, scammers have not abandoned the telephone.

Helpful Resources

  • Federal Trade Commission - The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, collects complaints about companies, business practices, and identity theft.

  • FBI - Provides tips on how you can protect you and your family from fraud, with this guide having emphasis on scams that target seniors.

  • The National Fraud Information Center - The NFIC is a project of the National Consumers League and provides tips for fighting frauds targeted at older consumers.

  • Senior Investment Fraud Protection Guide - A 24-page guide from the Securities and Exchange Commission.