Avoiding Scams: Protecting Your Parents

If you or your parents are over 60, watch out—scam artists are lurking.


Like Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf “friend” they are disguised, hiding in direct mail solicitations, telemarketing calls, Internet messages and even infomercials.

They want confidential information about bank accounts, credit cards and mortgages. They are selling worthless cures for diseases and potions to restore memory and make people young again. They are predators and most of all they want your money.

“The threat to seniors is growing,” warns the FBI.  That is because baby boomers, persons born between 1946 and 1964, are now the largest segment of our population.

The FBI says people over 60 are prey for con men, fraudsters and medicine men for a variety of reasons.

  • They are most likely to have a “nest egg,” own their home, and have excellent credit earned over a lifetime of work and saving.
  • They are less likely to report fraud because they do not know where to report it or are too ashamed to admit they have been scammed. Or because they do not know they were cheated—at least not immediately.
  • Often they are poor witnesses, unable to supply investigators with enough specifics for successful prosecutions.
  • In their desire to remain vital, in good physical shape, improve their cognitive functions or to deal with diseases that are difficult to treat or cure, seniors become vulnerable to modern day “medicine men” who push their wares not from a horse drawn wagon but in infomercials and printed ads.

“My senior clients typically are deluged with junk mail—much of designed to look urgent or to look like some official document,” says Dale LaPedus, a social worker at the North Shore Senior Center.

“If a senior is naïve or confused but compassionate and philanthropic, she may make a donation to a fraudulent group that looks or sounds like an organization that supports the senior’s values,” adds LaPedus.

The scams are myriad running from health insurance frauds to funeral and cemetery frauds, from sales of  “anti-aging” products, investment schemes to reverse mortgage scams.

To avoid being victimized the FBI recommends you and your parents should:

Shred credit card receipts and old bank statements
Not give personal information by phone, mail or on the internet unless you initiated the conversation
Not pay in advance for services
Close unused credit card and bank accounts

Common schemes to watch out for include:

Identity theft
Home repair schemes
Health insurance frauds including counterfeit prescription drugs, medical equipment you are told is “free” but is billed to your insurance company or never delivered
E-mail scams offering unclaimed money in foreign accounts
Foreign lottery and sweepstakes offers
Investment and reverse mortgage frauds
Charity schemes

Report fraud and suspected fraud to your local police departments.

Here are two books that can provide more information:

Scambusters!: More than 60 Ways Seniors Get Swindled and How They Can Prevent It
Ron Smith
Harper Books



Fleecing Grandma and Grandpa: Protecting against Scams, Cons, and Frauds
Betty L. Alt and Sandra K. Wells
Praeger Publishers

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