I must be so special! Nigerian princes. Colonel Ghaddafi’s wife. Saddam Hussein’s daughter. Imelda Marcos. All of them wanted to give me huge a percentage of millions that they have secretly stolen/found/inherited if I just give them my bank account number and, as a goodwill gesture, pay a small fee to create the transfer! Just think, all these generous strangers picked me to help them and they would, in the process, make me rich. BALONEY!
Low-life scumbags scamming innocent people out of their life savings has become a way of life in today’s digitally connected world. The largest target for scammers, by far, is people over 50. Why are older people targeted as ‘easy marks’?
Some of the ‘easy mark’ factors scammers target include:
- Bank accounts – All scammers are after one thing: money. Seniors are more than likely have large savings accounts or ‘nest eggs’ that they have accumulated for retirement. Seniors are also more likely to have cash accounts for easy access to funds.
- Real Estate – Seniors are likely to have access to wealth in their home value. Many people work their whole lives to pay off mortgages so that the equity builds and is available to help fund retirement. With real estate values that have escalated with supply and demand, a $60,000 home purchased 50 years ago may be worth hundreds of thousands more today. This fact doesn’t escape the minds of scammers. Though real estate scams are typically longer in duration, the payoffs to the thieves is often greater.
- Fear – Scammers target universal fears to snag a ‘mark’. A call from a government entity, an immediate crisis and mandatory urgent action are all combined to play on fears. A common scam is a phone call from a caller claiming to be with the IRS warning of grave mistake on tax returns resulting in a $10,000 fine that must be paid that day or an arrest warrant will be issued. Scammers often create complicated scenarios that are designed to confuse and scare.
Another fear-scam ruse is the ‘Fountain of Youth’. There are an enormous number of phony or fictitious medicines, vitamins, skin products, and more, all with the promise of erasing everything from aches and pains to spots and wrinkles and to restoring youthful vitality. Targeting fears of getting older, scammers ‘guarantee’ to send ‘miracle’ cures and, as an added bonus, will conveniently send more product monthly as a ‘subscription’ fee thereby charging more and more to the credit card on file. It is nearly impossible to cancel these subscriptions without closing the credit card account.
- Trust and courtesy – Lifelong good manners also put the elderly at risk. Most folks who were born in the first half of the 1900s were brought up in a trusting society where handshakes could seal a deal instead of a lawyer and everyone greeted everyone else on the street. It was unheard of to be impolite in any situation. If a salesman appeared at your doorway, it would never have occurred to us to slam the door in their face. You never slammed the phone down on someone. And if you were told you won a prize, you probably had! Scammers prey on lifelong habits and use them to their advantage whether they are engaging you through email, snail mail, phone calls or by showing up on your doorstep. Scammers often appear to be well-mannered and congenial, quickly becoming ‘best friends’ with the marks. They are experts at reading people’s emotions and will adjust their scam to best fit the mark’s attitude. They will become flirtatious, empathetic, conspiratorial – whatever the mark response to best.
- Declining memory or slower reasoning – In order to be successful, scammers need the ‘mark’ to be confused, scared, and anxious. These crooks will use a mark’s confusion, forgetfulness, hearing difficulties or other aging deficits as their weapons. Scammers will talk fast, deepen accents, talk in circles…all tactics to make the mark feel lost. Often seniors will not admit to being confused so they continue with the conversation with the hopes that they can sort it out. Seniors may also be hesitant to say they can’t hear the caller, they don’t remember talking to the scammer before or they don’t really understand what the scammer is saying. Scammers will key in to all of these factors to get to their end game: getting money!
Scams become more and more creative every year. Just as soon as the word is out about one, a new one is developed. What are some of the most popular schemes to look out for? In Part 2 of this series, we’ll explore the Top 10 current scams and ways to spo