For all the years I’ve been writing Time Goes By, I’ve regularly run across news stories of scams perpetrated against elders. Most recently, in Wisconsin, crooks are telephoning elders asking for their bank account numbers.
“The caller told Burke that Medicare was issuing new cards without Social Security numbers, and to get the new Medicare card, Burke would have to give the caller her bank account number.
"’I said 'I don't give out my information like that over the phone,' Burke said. ’I called Medicare, and of course it is a scam.’"
- - GazetteXtra, 1 November 2006
This caught my attention because Medicare beneficiaries are, by definition, elders and this is not a con that can be run on 20- or even 50-somethings. In the past, I questioned if news stories connecting scams and elders weren’t just another form of ageism, knee-jerk assumptions that old people are too stupid to know when they are being flimflammed and that reporters never bothered to check if younger people weren’t being scammed too.
I’ve changed my mind.
No one likes to talk about it, but it is a fact of aging that some of us are or will become fuzzy in our thinking. As far as I can tell, I’m doing fine so far, but there are no guarantees that next week or next year a stroke or illness won’t rob me of my cognitive skills - and simple good sense too – perhaps just enough to make me vulnerable to such as this Medicare fraud.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation identifies several other reasons elders are frequent targets of scam artists:
- Elders are attractive marks for cons because they are more likely to have “nest eggs”
- People who grew up in the 1930s, ’40s and ‘50s are more polite and more trusting than younger people
- Elders are less likely to report fraud because “they don’t know who to report it to”
- Elder victims, when they do report crime, make less reliable witnesses
Although I take issue with the FBI over items 2, 3 and 4 as generalized assumptions about all elders, there is no doubt that they are sometimes true.
The FBI has an excellent webpage titled, Fraud Target: Senior Citizens with a list of typical scams elders should be aware of, together with tips on avoiding them. They cover:
- Health Insurance Frauds
- Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
- Funeral and Cemetery Fraud
- Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
- Telemarketing Fraud
- Internet Fraud
- Investment Schemes
The FBI does neglect to mention that anyone can avoid all telemarketing fraud by signing on with the National Do Not Call Registry, which has been successful in stopping telemarketers. I joined the list several years ago and have never again received calls except from charities, politicians and businesses with which I have an existing relationship, which is allowed.
There is no way to know if it would help, but perhaps familiarizing ourselves with the FBI cautionary list is a way to “inoculate” ourselves for the future if our mental faculties begin to slip. And it’s a good idea to make ourselves aware of it to help our aging friends and relatives when they may need our counsel.