10 financial scams targeting seniors and how to avoid them

By ClarkHoward.com

Who criminals are targeting

Elderly people are targets for criminals for a variety reasons, and as their family members and friends, it's our job to help protect them from potential scams.

How you can help protect older people in your life

With families together during the holidays, it's a great time to check in on what's going on in a parent or other older family member or friend's life, including their finances.

As you monitor your parent or other older person's financial life, it's important to be aware of some common scams and to talk to your loved ones about how they can avoid being scammed.

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), here are the top 10 financial scams that are wreaking havoc in the lives of seniors.

Top 10 financial scams targeting seniors

1. Medicare/health insurance fraud

Many of these scams operate via door-to-door or over-the-phone solicitations by someone claiming to be a Medicare representative. Here are some ways to spot a medical scam targeting a senior:

  • Being told you need a new Medicare card and have to divulge your Social Security number.
  • Being told you need new supplemental policies.
  • Being asked to pay a $100 fee for help navigating the new Obamacare landscape.

2. Counterfeit prescription drugs

PROBLEM: Many older people may be looking for cheaper drug alternatives as a way to save money on a fixed income. The problem is that scammers prey on this vulnerability of wanting to save.

The Internet is the most common way criminals operate these scams -- offering "better prices" on specialized medication, which can not only be fake, but also end up being harmful to the person if they take an unknown substance.

3. Funeral & cemetery scams

1. Criminals will read obituaries and either call or attend the funeral service of someone they don't know just to take advantage of someone there who's grieving. The scammer will then claim the deceased had an outstanding debt with them in an effort to get money from relatives to "settle" that fake debt.

2. Unfortunately, there are dishonest funeral homes out there that prey on grieving families by capitalizing on their unfamiliarity with the cost of funeral services in order to get more money from them. How it often works is someone at the funeral home adds unnecessary charges by insisting on extra features, such as the most expensive casket.

SOLUTION: Do some research before agreeing to anything suggested by the funeral home. Also, if your elderly loved one has a friend or other family member pass away, make sure to check on them and monitor their finances to make sure they don't fall victim to a scam like this.

4. Fake anti-aging products

PROBLEM: If you watch a lot of late night TV, which seniors often do, you'll notice all the commercials about products that claim to be the perfect solution to signs of aging or other unwanted physical changes.

According to the NCOA, seniors often feel the need to look younger in order to keep up in social circles or to fill some other void in their life. This leads them to seek out new treatments, medications and other remedies -- making them vulnerable to scammers who capitalize on this demand. These scams operate in a variety of ways, including offering very expensive treatments that turn out to be harmful or very expensive homeopathic remedies that actually do nothing (except take your money).

SOLUTION: When monitoring your loved one's finances, look for purchases of these types of remedies or treatments, which you may also find when you visit their home. Talk to them about the dangers of these products, and also just increasing the frequency of your visits may help them avoid these situations.

5. Phone scams

PROBLEM: Scammers use several types of phone scams to prey on seniors. Here are a few to watch out for:

SOLUTION: Here are a few ways to avoid phone scams:

  • Never call back an unknown number.
  • Know the IRS will never contact you by phone or email, only by U.S. mail.

Read more: How to protect your elderly loved ones from being scammed

6. Internet fraud

BONUS TIP: Seniors often fall victim to a variety of Internet scams, including fake virus protection pop-ups and fake emails. Warn your loved one about the dangers of clicking on any unknown links or emails. Do not click on any link in any email you were not expecting. If there's a question and you think there's a legitimate message or notification intended for you, go directly to the official website of whatever business it is and check for any notifications there. Also, you can protect their computer bydownloading virus and malware protection software on it yourself.

Read more: Apple email scam is stealing people's information

7. Investment/timeshare schemes

8. Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams

Homeowner scams

Mortgage/reverse mortgage scams

PROBLEM: According to the NCOA, scammers are preying on senior homeowners by offering a property assessment on the value of their home. They find the public information on the home, and then send the homeowner an official looking letter that offers to assess the value of the home for a fee. This is of course just a ruse to get that "fee" money.

As reverse mortgages have increased in popularity, scammers are taking advantage of seniors with fake offers. According to the NCOA, "unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when the perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property."

SOLUTION: Monitor all of your loved one's important financial and asset information closely. If you are worried they could fall victim to a scam like this, you may need to take control of their power to make decisions involving their finances, investments, assets etc.

Read more: Pros and cons of reverse mortgages for seniors

9. Sweepstakes & lottery scams

Another way these scams unfold is a criminal will send the person a fake check to deposit, and during the period it takes for the check to get rejected, the scammer collects money from the senior for "fees" or "taxes" on the supposed prize. Then they're out of that money, and of course, no money is deposited from that fake check.

10. The grandparent scam