Avoiding scams | Page on Age

It is absolutely humiliating to be duped, scammed or taken advantage of, especially when it involves your money, trust or sympathy. Many, many seniors have and will be scammed or defrauded at some point in their lives. These con artists are clever, stealthy, and the perpetrators have absolutely no remorse. They have honed their tactics and have used technology against our older adults.

In some classic approaches, someone calls to say, “Congratulations, you have won $5,000 from the Canadian lottery. We are so excited for you. Now in order for us to get your winnings to you, we only need you to send us $250.” Or a request to donate to a false charity over the phone, or being pressured to buy an annuity that won’t pay out for 10 years, and you are 90. Or the telephone scam when you get a call from your grandson who is in jail and needs you to send money for the bailout. We’ve all heard of them, and yet they still happen.

Many people believe that only people with memory problems fall for these scams. But what research by AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center has found out is that most older people who have been scammed are not incapacitated, and will be scammed one time, if not more. For many, getting calls or tons of “scam” mail is their social outlet. And the con artists are really good at getting you to trust them. They use clever psychological tactics, which include the following.

Phantom Fixation: Using a prize or reward as bait, tap into the victim’s desire or the illusion that they won thousands of dollars.

Social Proof: Show that others like the victim are winning, too. This can be illustrated in a mailer showing people with new cars, cash, if you only keep purchasing products that will make you a winner.

Authority: The perpetrator uses strong persuasive tactics and works to engender trust with the victim. They are very convincing.

Scarcity: The perpetrator uses tactics to inflate the perceived value of the prize, and this is the very last chance to get an item — “only 100 of these coins were minted, don’t miss out on this great offer.”

So what to do about this? Remember that the very generation that is being targeted as victims are people who have lived through many changes in technology and have honed their skills in the fine art of courtesy. Using the telephone as an example — many people in their 70s and older grew up using a “party line,” where neighbors shared one phone number and you knew to answer it by the special ring. There was an operator on the other end making sure the call was connected. There was a level of trust that was established because there was a person actually connecting the calls. And you already knew the people who usually called you. Now, phone numbers and personal information are easily available at the touch of a button.

Older people tend to be more polite on the phone when someone calls. It is difficult for them just to hang up or to tell the caller, “This is a ridiculous offer. Quit calling me.” And once the con artist gets his/her proverbial feet in the door, they can start using their very persuasive tactics. Ways to fight this are to either hang up immediately, get caller ID, or get more information so that you can take time to think about it and ask friends and family what they think. And there are ways to decrease junk mail and calls by putting yourself on the Do Not Call Registry and Direct Mail Registry (go to, Washington attorney general’s website).

The bad news about these horrible scams is that most people never get their money back. This causes feelings of shame and embarrassment for the victim. If you are a victim of a scam, it is still advisable to call police, and you can also call the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center in Seattle, 1-800-646-2283, for helpful resources and information so that it does not happen again.


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