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Being defrauded at any age is a nightmare, but for seniors on a fixed income, it’s cataclysmic. We’ve all heard about telemarketing fraud, health insurance scams, identity theft, or Ponzi schemes. They’re pretty common. But did you know the average age is 69? Elder Americans are more vulnerable to fraud for many reasons, but recently it’s been discovered that our brain’s natural fraud detection system diminishes as we get older. They tend to just believe what people tell them. Seniors also have more time to entertain the charlatans, who by doorbell, phone, or mail attempt to part them with their money. But these schemes are well documented, and with adequate forewarning, we can help our elders hang on to their retirement.

Facial cues, a major line of defense

So why do we suddenly start believing the snake oil salesman when we reach a certain age? One UCLA study found that although the elderly continue to identify trustworthy or neutral faces like younger adults, they don’t detect the facial cues of the untrustworthy. Other findings show that the areas of the brain that used to put up red flags from risky situations, stops giving off this response as we age. Seniors find people more trustworthy.

A fraudsters dream: open lines of communication

Many younger people devise plans to block unknown callers, junk mail, or uninvited knocks on the door. When elder folks receive these intrusions however, they are much more likely to let them in. An AARP Survey compared crime victims to the general public and found that victims were simply more open to listening to enticing pitches and promises from strangers. Breaking it down further, it was older men – even experienced investors — who lost the most. The women were more often taken in with petty fraud.

The FBI identifies other reasons that senior citizens are sitting ducks for con artist. They are likely to have a “nest egg”, own their home, and have good credit. These members of the “Greatest Generation,” were also brought up more innocent and polite. Another more important reason the FBI cited, is that the elderly are less likely to report fraud because they fear they will be accused of losing their mental faculties.

Knowledge is power

As depressing as this all is, there are good ways to protect our family and friends from shysters. The FBI keeps an updated list on their Common Fraud Schemes webpage to keep the public informed of the latest hijinks. They give detailed fraud warnings from health insurance to telemarketing to counterfeit drugs. The list goes on and on (depressing that there are so many flavors of). Here is the highlight reel:

On health insurance fraud:

  1. Never sign blank insurance claim forms.
  2. Never give blanket authorization to a medical provider to bill for service rendered.
  3. Ask your medical providers what they will charge and what you will be expected to pay out-of-pocket.

On telemarketing fraud:

  1. “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
  2. “You’ve won a ‘free’ gift, vacation, or prize.” But you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
  3. “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.

On counterfeit prescription drugs:

  1. Be mindful of appearance. Closely examine the packaging and lot numbers of prescription drugs and be alert to any changes from one prescription to the next.
  2. Consult your pharmacist or physician if your prescription drug looks suspicious.
  3. Alert your pharmacist and physician immediately if your medication causes adverse side effects or if your condition does not improve.

For a complete list of warnings from the FBI, click here.

It’s time for family, friends, doctors, and other health care workers to step in and give seniors knowledge and confidence to build up a much stronger line of defense against fraud.

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