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Grandparent Scams: The love of a grandparent for a grandchild is strong. Some scams target that special bond. They usually involve a phone call from someone posing as a grandchild who needs money for some unexpected situation that requires immediate attention. Speaking as the grandchild, the imposter may claim to have lost his/her wallet while on vacation, to have been in a car accident or, any number of other such predicaments.
Often, the caller has done some research and knows the names needed for the ploy. If not, the call may begin with something like “Hi Grandpa, how are you doing? Guess who this is?” That way, the grandparent actually provides a name.
It can be difficult to recognize people’s voices over the phone. It helps to have some kind of special greeting for family to use when calling. If a caller doesn’t use the greeting, you know immediately the call is from an impostor.
Here are a few of the most common types of fraud targeting seniors.
IRS scams: Hearing from an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent seems like very serious business that should not be questioned. The truth is every day people are being scammed by impostors claiming to represent the IRS. One such con involves receiving a call from an alleged IRS agent demanding payment of overdue taxes and usually implying that dire action will be taken if payment is not made immediately.
In another IRS-related scam, the alleged IRS agent calls to let you know you are a victim of identity theft or there is a problem with your tax return. The caller then asks for some personal or financial information from you that is needed to resolve the problem.
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a representative of the IRS, take the caller's information and contact your local IRS office to verify the authenticity of the call.
Home Repair/Landscaping Scams: Most homeowners have projects or repairs that need attention. Home repair and landscaping scams often involve a call or visit from a “handyman,” carpenter, or landscaper offering to do some work on your home or yard at a discounted rate, usually stating they are just finishing up another project in your neighborhood. The person then asks for money or your credit card information so the project can be scheduled. In some of these scams, the planned work never takes place. If work is performed, the workmanship is often very poor.
Never agree right away to do business with someone who stops by your home or calls you out of the blue. Instead, get their name and contact information or the name of the company they represent. Tell the person you will be in touch if you decide to have work done. Make some calls and do some research to find out if the company or person is legit before agreeing to anything.
Nobody expects to be the victim of a scam. We all hope we would know right away if we were being conned. Unfortunately, scams are getting more and more sophisticated and more and more difficult to recognize. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), financial scams targeting people in their “seasoned” years have become so prevalent they are now considered “the crime of the 21st century."
There are ways you can protect yourself from being scammed. Always be skeptical of unsolicited offers and requests for money, whether they come to you by postal mail, email or phone. Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, insurance, or other personal information over the phone or Internet unless you are absolutely positive it is safe to do so.
If making purchases or filling out forms on the Internet, make sure you are dealing with secure, trusted websites (when buying, look for a locked padlock that will usually appear in the status bar at the bottom of your Web browser). Only provide personal information over the phone if you placed the telephone call yourself to a legitimate organization or business, and be absolutely sure you are speaking to the correct person.
Lottery/Contest/Sweepstakes Scams: Who hasn't dreamed of winning the lottery or the grand prize in a sweepstakes or contest? With most scams of this type, someone - seeming to be “official” - calls to inform you that you have indeed won something substantial. The person then tells you all taxes, shipping and handling charges, and/or other fees must be paid in advance before you can collect your winnings.
Always be very suspicious of a call, letter, or email claiming you have won something, especially if you have no memory of entering the contest or purchasing the lottery ticket. It is also important to know that legitimate sweepstakes or contests DO NOT require you to pay money before you can have your prize or check. If you receive a prize notification by mail, it is a good idea to check the postmark to see if it was sent by bulk mail, which would not be the case with a legitimate prize notification.