It might seem counter-intuitive: you invite a stranger into your home to keep you secure and safe from other strangers. The first time a professional caregiver comes to the home, they are a stranger to the person who needs in-home care and their family. Yet over time there is potential to become a trusted helper, who has already passed background checks, and can potentially intercept thieves and scammers who try to contact a vulnerable senior by phone, traditional mail, email or at their front door.
Scams tend to increase around the holidays when people might be in a generous mood and are generally busy and distracted.
Who Is at Risk?
Some people are more susceptible to scams than others. Does this sound like someone you know?
- Living alone
- Has a desire to be helpful
- Is afraid to report a crime
- Relies on a nest egg
- Going through significant life changes (such as the death of a spouse)
- Tends to be very trusting
Chances are that you cannot change any of these characteristics, so the best solution is to be aware of the most common scams and educate your loved ones and any caregivers they rely on as to how to react if they are targeted.
Beware These Commons Scams
Remarkably, many scams are just tried over and over again with new twists. These are some of the most common scams, according to many expert sources:
- The Grandparent Scam. A person calls pretending to be a grandchild who has been in an accident and needs financial assistance immediately to be sent via mail, wire transfer or gift cards. Sometimes the caller will ask the senior to “guess” which one of their grandchildren is calling, therefore eliciting a name to use in the scam. The caller will beg the senior not to tell anyone else in the family. The right thing to do is ask to call them back from a number you know is correct, then contact other family to verify this story. If it is a scam, report it.
- Sweepstakes Scam. Yes, it’s too good to be true! Someone calls or emails and says that the senior has won a prize and needs to claim it by paying a fee. This may also be “lottery scams” in which someone is told they have won lottery money. Know that you have to enter to win any prize so always be skeptical of a random prize. Also, never provide any financial information over the phone or email when being told that you need to do that to collect the prize.
- Fake Charity Scam. Giving is good, but scammers prey on the holiday spirit and create phony charities. Before making a donation, verify that this is a real organization by going to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance or CharityWatch to find the one asking for money.
- Shopping Scam. The holidays are a time for deals, but there can be fraudulent deals out there from dummy gift cards to fake discount apps. Engaging with these scams can lead to simply losing the money spent or leaving access to financial accounts open. Never provide financial or personal information to someone on the phone or click on suspicious links.
- Bogus church donation scam. Seniors might receive an email, text or phone call from someone pretending to be a local pastor, rabbi, or bishop who is asking for gift cards. It can get complicated with a request for the person to buy a gift card, then give the scammer the card and PIN number which they use to remove the funds.
How to Help Fight Scams
A caregiver in the home can be one line of defense against scammers as they may have received training about the latest information on scams or question someone who calls or comes to the front door. This will help the person receiving care seem less alone, less vulnerable and possibly make them less of a target to thieves.
The AARP Foundation ElderWatch program has a hotline at 1-800-222-4444, ext. 2, to report fraud.
If you suspect a scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357 or online.