How to protect residents from scams

It’s no secret that older adults are among the favorite targets of scam artists and bogus fundraisers. In some circumstances, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities may even bear some risk for protecting residents’ finances. So what can long-term care and senior living operators do to help residents and their families protect their loved ones from the sly strategies of such criminals? 

Older people are not necessarily more gullible than younger people, but they are very susceptible to fast-talking telemarketers who will deliberately try to confuse them and prey on their willingness to trust a stranger, noted a recent NPR story. Residents with cognitive decline can also be tricked into donating to a bogus cause more than once, or donating far more than they intended to.


One of the communication technologies dearest to older adults is also one of the best weapons for scammers—the telephone. In one of the most notorious scam stings of 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) busted a sophisticated ring of telemarketers who impersonated government and bank officials, tricking seniors into paying for fake pharmacy benefits, legal protection and—of all things—fraud protection. Tens of thousands of seniors were duped in the scheme from 2011–2013, a scam that exceeded $20 million, the FTC reported.

The ease of today’s electronic and phone-based credit card transactions is both a help and a danger for older adults. Seniors who fall for a scheme once will tend to be "flagged" by scammers and targeted repeatedly, Doug Shadel, a fraud expert with AARP's Fraud Watch, told NPR: "Once you participate in one of these things, even if you only send in $3, you're really signaling to the con artists that you're someone who participates in this, compared to the majority of people who do not," he says.

Why scammers target seniors

The Federal Bureau of Investigation explains why older adults tend to make prime targets for con artists. Today’s seniors (who grew up in the 1930s, '40s and '50s) tend to:

• Have "nest eggs" and excellent credit

• Have certain trusts and politenesses of their eras, making them hesitant to be cynical or rude with callers

• Have a lesser tendency to report being a fraud victim, often out of shame or fear that relatives will consider them inept at financial dealings

• Be "poor witnesses" to fraud crimes compared to younger people, often not realizing they’ve been swindled and/or unable to recall specific details about the con artists

• Be especially susceptible to schemes involving health, pharmaceuticals, "miracle products" and "ailment cures"

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senior fraud targets

Some new products have emerged that families can use to shield residents from financial fraudsters and keep their credit transactions within safe limits—while still allowing them to retain a sense of independence in their buying choices. Here are a few:

TrueLink – This prepaid debit card is designed for older adults. A simple portal allows family members to monitor, customize or block specific kinds of transactions and request alerts when the card is used at specific stores or for certain transaction categories. For example, the debit card can be set up to allow mail-order purchases, but to trigger an alert if money is donated to a charity, and to block charges at gambling institutions.

Eversafe – This watchdog service uses intelligent tracking to monitor a person’s bank accounts, credit and investments for suspicious activity. Unlike other fraud protection services, it’s designed specifically for seniors and the types of transactions that often target them. Assigned family members can receive notifications if something seems suspicious, and can monitor the transaction activity on a daily basis and catch them right away, instead of waiting for monthly bank statements.

Senior living organizations can do residents a great service by holding an open information session to explain to residents and their families some of the ways fast-talking fraudsters can abuse a senior’s trust. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network offers free watchdog alerts to stay informed of the latest predation scams, and provides valuable educational resources to guide a session on helping seniors stay savvy, including the most common schemes that prey on older adults.


The "Grandparents scam": In this long-standing scheme, the caller pretends he or she is a grandchild in need of money via money order or wire service—or these days, even via PayPal. Never use the name of a grandchild or relative, such as, "Is that you, Lisa?," AARP warns. And always check out the story first, even if the caller seems to know the grandchild’s name. (It's often easy to find the names of grandchilden or relatives online, including on social media sites like Facebook.)

The "heart-strings" charity scam: The caller uses an emotional tale to get the senior to donate money to the “desperate” cause. Before donating any money, seniors should always ask for the organization’s official contact address and phone. Politey hang up and check the organization out—a legitimate charity will be very happy to receive a donation at a later time.

The "transaction bully" scam: The caller tells the senior that his or her payment for X or Y was not received, and must be processed again. The caller will insist that a purchase was made or service delivered, even if the senior says it wasn’t. The caller will try to bully the senior into paying again, pften by credit card ("since it will solve the problem faster"). This scam can get extra devious when the caller pretends to be from a medical billing office, a pharmacy service company or anything related to Medicare.

The password or login scam: The caller will pretend to be from a bank, credit card company, social security office, etc., and will say the senior’s password/or login to has expired and/or needs to be reset. This one has all kinds of variations, but they all end in one big piece of advice: Just ask for the institution's official address and phone, and check it out after you've hung up. No legitimate bank, credit card, social security office or tax agency will ever ask for a person’s private password over the phone.

The "click here" scam: Born in the Internet Age, this scam usually arrives via email or as a pop-up box on a web site. The message could take various forms, usually purporting to be a bank or credit card company, and will ask the recipient to click on a provided link to input key personal information. Usually, the link goes to a place other than its stated destination—and into the scammer’s database. All legitimate requesters of information will allow you to skip the notice and instead go to the company’s homepage manually to provide the information.

Although the holiday season is fertile ground for scams, con artists who target seniors never really take a holiday. All senior living organizations need to make education and resources available year-round to empower residents to make wise choice when dealing with financial requests via phone or online.



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