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Insurance swindles and other scams that target senior citizens

Each year, thousands of unsuspecting senior citizens are swindled.

They're tricked into divulging their Social Security numbers to complete forms for bogus services covered by Medicare. They're duped into revealing their credit card numbers to immoral telemarketers. They fall for “get rich quick” schemes.

Financial abuse of the elderly is big business, netting criminals upwards of $2.6 billion a year, according to a recent study by MetLife. And with more than 38 million Americans over age 65, there are plenty of unsuspecting victims to choose from.

senior citizen fraud

“Seniors are one of the few groups of a society with a regular stream of income from Social Security, and the fraudsters and scammers know this,” Ramsey Alwin, director of the economic security initiative at the National Council on Aging, tells “What folks should know is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Barbara McGinity, program director for the Houston/South Texas Better Business Bureau's education foundation, says thieves prey on those seniors who believe anything they're told.

"Sometimes seniors take what they see at face value. They think if (a crook) has just a little bit of information -- a telephone number, an address -- that that person knows them and they must be legitimate," McGinity says. "They believe and trust too much. They need to be a little more leery."

The National Council on Aging recently released a list of the top 10 scams that target seniors. Surprisingly, it’s not always strangers who scam the elderly. More than 90 percent of all reported scams aimed at the elderly are committed by people they know, according to the council.

Alwin says the best way for seniors to avoid being scammed is to stay aware andinvolved.

“If you are active and involved and something happens that you think is suspicious, then you have a network of friends and family that you can draw upon and they can give you feedback,” Alwin says.

Here are four widely used scams that target the elderly, according to the National Council on Aging:

1. Health care/Medicare/health insurance fraud

What it is: Fraudsters pose as Medicare representatives to persuade seniors to give them personal information, like Social Security numbers. Or they'll provide bogus medical services, bill Medicare and take the money. Bill Deal, director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, says: “Medicare beneficiaries are easy prey. Most beneficiaries have a supplemental policy that picks up what Medicare does not pay leaving seniors vulnerable to pitches for services or equipment.”

How to protect yourself: Don’t sign blank insurance forms. Don’t give blanket authorization to a medical provider to bill for services. Keep records of all your health care appointments.

2. Counterfeit prescription drugs

What it is: Seniors who don’t have a lot of money may shop online to find low-cost prescription medicines. They send off their money, and oftentimes they wind up with fake drugs that may be harmful to their health.

How to protect yourself: Consult your pharmacist if your prescription drugs look suspicious. Do not purchase medication from unlicensed online distributors. Alert your doctor if your medication causes bad side effects.

3. Funeral fraud

What it is: Crooks will read obituaries in the local paper to single out grieving relatives of the departed. The crooks show up at the funerals, then demand payment of an debt owed by the deceased love one. Also, shady operators of funeral homes will tack on unnecessary charges to bills for funeral or memorial services.

How to protect yourself: If you're in charge of a deceased person's estate, check his or her credit report to make sure listed debts match up with what a possible scammer is claiming. Thoroughly read all contracts and purchase agreements before a loved one's funeral or memorial service.

4. Telemarketing fraud

What it is: This is one of the most common kinds of scams. Often, a crook will call a senior citizen and make up a story about why he or she needs to give money. After natural disasters, for instance, a con artist may solicit money for a fake charity.

How to protect yourself: Say “No thank you” and hang up the phone if you hear phrases like, “You must act now or the offer won’t be good or "You can’t afford to miss this high-profit, no-risk offer.”

"The telephone is more your enemy than your friend," McGinity says. "I encourage seniors to use an answering machine and screen their telephone calls. Anytime someone tells me, 'These people keep calling me,' I say, 'Stop talking to them.'"

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