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Tips for Avoiding Scams and Fraud

Each year in the United States, Americans lose billions of dollars to scams and fraud.  Unfortunately, much of this total belongs to people over 60 years of age.

Older Americans are the most targeted group for scammers. They are also the most likely to fall victim to fraud. Each year, seniors lose more than $36 billion dollars to various scams, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

There are many reasons for this.  One reason is that seniors tend to have large amounts of money in savings, retirement, and other assets.  The second biggest reason is that many seniors are either too trusting or no longer have the cognitive ability to discern fraudulent offers from real ones.

Many seniors feel confident about their financial literacy.  After all, they have worked hard for many years to acquire their savings, their retirement, and their homes.  However, this overconfidence can often backfire. Overconfidence in their ability to make sound financial decisions can often lead people to fall into fraudulent money-making scams that may cost them thousands of dollars.

Some of the most common types of fraud against older Americans include “free” financial seminars, unsolicited calls about financial products, fake IRS claims, lottery winnings or other monetary prizes, “free” medical services or equipment, discounted home repairs, and veterans aid benefits.

The easiest, most popular way to perpetuate a scam is through the telephone.  The Federal Trade Commission states that tens of billions of dollars a year are lost to telephone scams, with email being the second most-used way to perpetuate fraud.

What can be done to reduce the risk of falling victim to a scam? Be aware.  If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Promises of free products or services or easy money may sound like a dream come true, but be wary of such offers.

Do research.  If someone is claiming to represent a charity, check out the charity before giving them money.  A great place to start is the website CharityNavigator.org, which rates charities based on their past history and current practices.

Never share personal information such as credit card, Social Security, or Medicare numbers with people who claim they need the information in return for a product or service.  Legitimate agencies and organizations either have this information already or will ask you to provide the information in a more secure manner.

Screen phone calls.  Caller ID can be very helpful.  Do not answer calls from unknown numbers.  More often than not, scammers will not leave a message since their goal is to find a victim and secure funds as soon as possible.

Ask for more information and follow up.  Scammers seek to sound convincing enough to be believed without having to offer further proof that they are legitimate.  By asking for more information and refusing to submit to pressure on the spot, the scammer will likely give up and move on to an easier target.

The first line of defense against scammers is to be vigilant.  Keep an eye on bank statements and credit reports.  Follow up regarding any discrepancies. Keep private papers and financial documents secured safely and limit the number of people with access to these documents to a trusted few.

Falling victim to fraud can be costly and embarrassing, but do not be ashamed to report it.  Fraud is a crime and should be reported first to the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office at (850) 745-7100.  It should also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Response Center at (877) 382-4357.

For more information about fraud and how to avoid it, please call Samantha Kennedy at the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Service at (850) 926-3931.

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