Don't Let Scam Artists Ruin Your Retirement

You work hard for many years in order to reach that wonderful goal at the end of your career: retirement. But when you do finally retire, danger can lurk behind many of the phone calls and emails you may receive. Scams may be targeted at senior citizens and are the work of crooks who will try to rob seniors of the money they have saved to enjoy their retirement years.

You don't have be retired very long before these problems can begin. You may even start getting come-ons before you retire. To enjoy your retirement years, you need to understand how scam artists operate, who they target, and the many types of scams they operate. Scam artists even buy and sell "sucker" lists of the names of people who have been taken in once or more by scams.

Many of the scams attempt to extract personal information from you, such as your bank account and Social Security numbers, which can be used to steal your identity and money. Never give that information in response to an email or a phone call.

Here are six of the more frequent scams as reported by the National Council on Aging:

1. Medicare/health insurance fraud. Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident age 65 and over qualifies for Medicare, and for these scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get personal information, or they will provide bogus services at makeshift mobile clinics and then use the personal information the seniors provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.

2. Counterfeit prescription drugs. Counterfeit drug scams tend to operate on the Internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications. This scam is growing in popularity—since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, up from five a year in the 1990s. The danger is that besides paying money for something that won't help your medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm.

3. Funeral and cemetery scams. The FBI warns about funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors. In one such approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt to them, the scammers will try to extort money from relatives to "settle" the fake debts.

4. Telemarketing. Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace.

5. Internet fraud. While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are everywhere on the web. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user's computer to scammers. Many of these scammers falsely claim they are calling about "Windows," the Microsoft operating system used by the majority of computers. Don't believe it. Hang up the phone.

6. Sweepstakes and lottery scams. Here, scammers inform their target that he or she has won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and needs to make a payment to unlock the purported prize. Often, seniors will be sent checks that they can deposit in their bank accounts. The scammers know that while the deposits show up in the seniors' accounts immediately, it will take a few days before the fake checks are rejected. During that time, the criminals will collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the "prize money" removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces.

If you suspect you've been the victim of a scam, call the Eldercare Locator, a government-sponsored national resource line, at 1-800-677-1116, or visit its website at www.eldercare.gov.

This article was written by a professional financial journalist for G.W. Sherwold and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

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