By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney
According to the National Council on Aging, financial scams targeting seniors happen so often that they have become the “crime of the 21st century.” There are several reasons for this, including the fact that many seniors have significant assets and have some form of cognitive impairment, making them easy prey for the scammers. However, it is not just those suffering from dementia that are targeted as over 90% of all scams are perpetrated by family members. Unfortunately, many of these bad acts go unreported for fear of retribution or the so called “stigma” attached to being a victim. The website for the National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org) lists the top ten financial scams targeting seniors. Here’s a summary of some of them:
Medicare/health insurance scams. Many seniors have received postcards stating that they are eligible to receive a brace (or other medical equipment) that is covered by Medicare. All they have to do is send their Medicare information and they will receive the item for free in the mail. In some cases, the company may actually send an item, usually a Velcro-style brace. The problem is that illegitimate firms bill Medicare for devices worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, and then use the individual’s Medicare information to bill Medicare for additional services that were never rendered. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warns seniors never to respond to open solicitations for Medicare-covered services or supplies, and to only provide their Medicare information to legitimate health care providers when services are actively being sought or received. Medicare scams can be reported to HHS at 1-800-HHS-TIPS.
Mass Mailing Fraud. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that thousands of victims in the United States have been defrauded out of more than $18 million by a mass mailing scam. Seniors were targeted with personalized, official-looking letters claiming that they had won a cash prize, but processing fees needed to be paid in order for the money to be transferred. Such mailings are fraudulent, and responding to them increases the risk that the person will be targeted for future scams. If you or a loved one receives a fraudulent mailing, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
Fake IRS Calls. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has warned taxpayers that impersonation calls are on the rise, with individuals claiming to represent the IRS and demanding payment of back taxes. A hallmark of the latest scam is that the caller will insist on payment through gift cards such as iTunes cards. Many of the calls are automated “robot-calls” with urgent call-back requests. If the victim returns the call, the scammer will threaten arrest, deportation or revocation of their driver’s license. The real IRS will never call to demand immediate payment over the phone, and the agency does not call about back taxes without first sending a bill or notice. If you receive a fake IRS call, hang up. You can report an IRS impersonation call to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.
Funeral and cemetery scams. Scammers have been known to read obituaries and contact a grieving widow or widower, claiming that the deceased had an outstanding debt with them and try to extort money from him/her to settle the alleged debt.
Telemarketing/phone scams. Many seniors are often lonely and are more susceptible to con artists over the phone. In some cases, the caller tells the senior that he has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the senior makes a good-faith contribution by withdrawing funds from her bank account. Other times, the scammer says he is calling on behalf of a charity or that the senior’s child or grandchild is in the hospital and needs money.
While you might say to yourself that none of these things can happen to you or someone you care about; think again. The scammers are very convincing and know how to gain your trust. If you think you or a loved one has been scammed, the National Council on Aging urges you to not be embarrassed and to speak with someone you trust and report the matter to the appropriate law enforcement officials.
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America for each of the last seven years. He is past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and past President of the New York Chapter of NAELA. Mr. Krooks has also served as chair of the Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. 914-684-2100 and www.elderlawnewyork.com.