Scam artists are eager to take advantage of people. But they're especially eager to find older victims who can seem like easy targets. Here are some of their tricks, and the ways you can foil the scammers.
The cowboys are the builders, roofers and driveway resurfacers who just love older homeowners. They'll try to convince you that you need work doing — maybe a new roof, replacing a wall, or giving your driveway a new surface. Often they'll just knock on your door, claiming they're "working in the neighbourhood" and claim to have seen a problem, just wanting to tell you about it, and offering to fix it.
Don't fall for it! If you think your house needs repairs, call a number of qualified people and get several estimates before making your decision. The cowboys will want payment up front, and if you even see them again, the chances are the work will take ages, be poorly done (if completed at all) and cost far more than they promised, draining your precious savings. Only use reputable people who are members of trade organisations, and who can offer a written estimate including completion date. Put a payment schedule in writing, including a period between the completion and final period to be sure you're satisfied and offer them a chance to fix any faults.
All too often older people are on limited incomes, relying on a pension and savings. Making the most of that is important, as is keeping your money away from the scammers. One of the most dangerous scams is identity theft.
It can occur in many ways, and one of the most popular is called "phishing." It takes the form of a fake e-mail or phone call purporting to be from your bank or a financial organisation. It might claim to be a security breach or a need to confirm some information. If you answer the call or click on the link in the e-mail (which takes you to a bogus site that looks exactly like the real thing), you might well find your bank account stripped, or your credit card used to buy merchandise, or even credit accounts opened in your name. Reclaiming your financial identity can be a long, difficult and sometimes costly process.
Don't fall for phishing. Never click on a link in an e-mail that wants you to reveal personal information. Instead, open your browser and type in the link (e.g. www.hsbc.co.uk). And don't reveal personal details in a phone call — no proper institution will ask for them.
If by chance you become a victim, inform your bank and credit card company immediately. Also request a copy of your credit file from a credit reporting agency.
You might consider improving your finances through investment. Someone might give you a stock tip they've had from someone else that's "guaranteed to go up." Or it might be the chance to invest in a property development.
Remember, you never get anything for free. If something seems too good to be real, then it probably is. The chances are that all those "opportunities" are nothing more than scams. Spreading word to push up stock prices is known as "pump and dump," and the only people to benefit from it are those behind it, who have a large amount of stock and sell when the price rises, leaving all the other investors with worthless stocks. For property, there might not even be planning permission.
The lesson is never to invest without thorough investigation. Don't believe what people tell you, even if they're friends or family. Research everything — the company issuing the stocks, the property and its history. Does the company you're dealing with have a street address and a landline number?
And if you do become a victim: Contact the police, fraud is a serious crime.
As you grow older, the idea of joining a holiday club or investing in a timeshare might seem appealing, offering not only holiday security, but also an investment. Whilst some holiday clubs are legitimate, most are scams — and much the same is true for timeshares.
You'll be invited to a presentation, lured by a supposedly expensive free gift, or maybe a free holiday — but they'll prove to be something other (and far less) than you anticipated. You'll be subject to a long, relentless sales pitch for the club or timeshare. They want your money, and they'll try and intimidate you into signing.
Remember, you can walk away at any time. Don't let yourself be pressured into signing any contract then and there. If you want to sign, have everything reviewed by a lawyer first. Remember, too, that in the case of holiday clubs, there's no cooling off period after you sign. Get every promise in writing, and compare it against the contract. Above all, don't believe a word that can't be proved.
Obviously, there are many more scams, but these are the main ones likely to be aimed at parting seniors from their hard-earned cash.
This article was contributed by www.safefromscams.co.uk, a public interest website offering informative features and practical advice on preventing scams and frauds.
To find out about scams against seniors in the USA, go to AARP - Scams