In the United States, according to research conducted by the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, more than 35,000 people have reported scams to BBB Scam Tracker since it was launched in 2015. Marketplace scams affect one in four North American households each year at an estimated loss to individuals and families of $50 billion, yet most consumers believe they are invulnerable. It is important for consumers to get educated so they protect themselves from the ever-increasing influx of calls and e-mails that are meant to “dupe” them.

Below are the 10 commons scams that seem to be the “favorites” of scam artists when it comes to targeting older persons. We ask that you not only educate yourself, but also share this information with people of all ages.

1. Government call scam: Scammers claim to represent a government agency such as the IRS or Medicare. They say that you owe money to the agency and demand immediate payment. They also ask to verify some sensitive information over the phone that will then be used to do further damage.
2. Medical alert scam: You get a call or a visit from a company representative saying that a family member ordered a medical alert device for you in case you have an emergency. They take your credit card or banking information, but you never receive anything.
3. Arrest scam: You receive an ominous phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer or government agent (often the IRS). They threaten to arrest you for overdue taxes or for skipping out on jury duty, but you can avoid it by sending them money via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Whatever the “violation,” it is scary to be threatened with arrest, and many people pay out of fear.
4. Emergency scam: This is sometimes called the “grandparent scam” because it often preys on older consumers. You get a call or email from someone claiming to be your grandchild or other relative who was injured, robbed or arrested and needs money ASAP. Beware! Do not send money!
5. “Can you hear me?” scam: You get a call from someone who immediately asks “Can you hear me?” Their goal is to get you to answer “yes.” These phone calls are recorded and edited to make it sound like you authorized a major purchase.
6. “Are you calling yourself?” scam: Scammers can make a call look like it is coming from anywhere. The latest trick puts your number in the Caller ID, which piques your curiosity and gets you to pick up the phone or return the call, and then they’ve snagged you in whatever scam they are running.
7. Tech support scam: You get a call or a pop-up on your computer claiming to be from a major tech manufacturer about a problem on your computer. They say if you give “tech support” access to your hard drive, they can fix it. Instead, they install malware on your computer and start stealing your personal information.
8. Romance scam: Scammers contact victims via online dating websites or Facebook. They quickly request to communicate outside of the venue in which you met, either through personal email or text messaging. They ask for a small favor in order to gauge whether you will help in a future emergency and then ask for a sum of money to be sent by Western Union or Money Gram.
9. Robocall scam: The notorious “Rachel from Cardholder Services” scam promises to lower your credit card interest rates. Scammers ask for your personal information – including your credit card number – and then charge fees to your card. You are then given the option to be removed from their call list by pressing a certain number. Hang up. Do not press any number. This will only confirm that there is a live person on the other end of the phone and they will keep calling back.
10. Door-to-door scam: These scams vary but often include one of the following situations. Your safest course of action to avoid getting caught up in one of these scams is to not open your door to strangers:
a) Magazine sales – groups of traveling sales people hit entire neighborhoods hard and fast, offering magazine subscriptions that never get delivered.
b) Utility scams – fraudulent utility companies hire and train door-to-door sale representatives to come to your home and convince you they can save you money on your electricity or gas bill. They will either try to gain access to your account information to switch your service without permission, or offer low rates for the first couple of months then hit you with a steep price hike.
c) Alarm-system scammers enter your home under the guise of upgrading your current alarm system, they will then negotiate with you a long-term service agreement (two-five years) that is very costly to break.

The above scams have proved to be successful year after year, because scammers are professionals who have tried-and-true techniques to swindle seniors. They often go through extensive measures to make themselves appear credible. They try to build relationships and play on people’s emotions to get them to make hasty decisions. Remember, these people are pros at what they do.

Reduce your risk of become a scam victim
> Never provide your personal information (address, date of birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you don’t know.
> Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions.
> Take time to research the organizations.
> If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business from the number on your bill or the back of your credit card.
> Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
> Never send money for an emergency situation unless you verify the emergency first.
> Never give out your Medicare number to receive a free service or a free product. Your Medicare account could be billed. For example, in exchange for your Medicare number, you are offered a free health screening. The scammers take your number and bill Medicare for the screening, or you receive a call from someone claiming to be a Medicare representatives asking for your Medicare number. Medicare never calls to ask for payment or for your Medicare number.
> Always check your Medicare statement for errors such as services or equipment you never received. Report the use of services you did not authorize to Medicare immediately. Call Medicare directly at 1-800-633-4227. (TTY: 877-486-2048).

Source: Elgin Police Department Community Outreach and Elderly Services

Cathy Rager
Senior Services Coordinator
Phone: (630) 719-6686

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