25 Sneaky Scams That Will Ruin Your Retirement
You work hard all your life, try to make smart decisions about money, fund your 401K or save money to supplement your pension and Social Security, and are getting ready to enjoy your golden years, only to lose it all when you fall victim to a sneaky scam-artist.
There are more scammers out there than you can shake a stick at and all of them are just dying to get their hands on your hard-earned money. Even if they don’t take all of it, scammers are happy to take any chunk of cold hard cash they can come by.
Don’t fall victim to these low-life predators. Learn how these cheats operate so you can turn the tables on them!
1. The IRS Impostor
Many scammers rely on telephones to do their work, others via US mail, and still others do it via email. The IRS impostor uses your telephone. Someone will call you, pretending to be from the IRS. They say that there is a serious error on a previous tax return and that you have failed to follow up on letters sent to you. Of course, you deny receiving any letters. They then tell you that federal marshals are on the way to arrest you unless you pay right now.
Some of these fraudsters ask you to buy gift cards, such as iTunes, and then read the numbers back to them. Other scammers ask for your checking or savings account info and then withdraw the money instantly. The IRS will never ask you for this type of information over the phone and they certainly will not allow you to pay via gift cards! Don’t fall for this scam or be prepared to lose thousands! In short, if the “IRS” calls you, hang up!
2. The Reverse Mortgage
The worst part about these types of scams is that they prey on those who can least afford it; the elderly living on fixed incomes. Usually, the thief offers a free property assessment, sometimes under the guise of lowering a homeowners property tax ill. The assessment is “free”, but then they follow up by asking for money to lower your tax bill. On top of that, they explain that along with this assessment, they can offer the homeowner a reverse mortgage, convincing people to sign over their homes to these con-artists.
Never trust anyone who offers you something free or asks you to pay a fee after offering you a free product or service. Always get their information and check with the Better Business Bureau or ask a trusted family member. If you aren’t certain about your elderly parents’ ability to make these determinations, you might want to speak to an attorney about taking control of their finances, so they don’t fall victim to these types of scams.
3. The Medicare Scare
The Feds are in the process of giving out new Medicare cards to all seniors. The new cards will not have your social security number printed on them, which the government hopes will cut down on identify theft and fraud. Scammers are again using the telephone, trying to discover if you have received your new card. If you haven’t, they ask you to confirm your personal information to ensure that your card reaches you. Commonly, they ask for your birthday, social security number, and home address. This information is typically used for identity fraud.
However, some scammers take this a step further, saying that you have a balance on your account and you can’t receive your new card until you pay. They will then get your checking account info or credit card info and clean out your accounts! These cards are free, and the government will never call you, asking for this type of personal information. Never give out credit card or bank account info to anyone over the phone to avoid being scammed.
4. The Social Security Drain
This is another telephone scam where some very official and professional sounding people call you claiming to be from the Social Security Administration. They often say that your social security number or payments have been suspended due to fraud, identity theft, or some other type of criminal activity. They sound very friendly and will even offer to do you a favor by helping you out with this little “problem”
Don’t fall for it! These scammers will often ask for your personal info, ask you to confirm your social security number and the bank account that your payments are being deposited to. With all that info, they can now drain your checking account! Social Security will never call you, they only notify citizens by mail or via an online account via their website. Don’t be fooled by this con! NEVER give out your personal information over the phone!
5. The Gift Card Lift
Wondering what to get your grandkids for the holidays or their birthdays? Gift cards certainly make shopping easier and they are inexpensive to send. Unfortunately, scammers have found a way to steal those precious gift cards away from your grandkids!
These con-artists steal the card numbers and security codes while they are still in the store. They then replace that little foil cover over the security codes, so you are none the wiser. The thieves use special technology that notifies them when someone has purchased and activated the card. They will then use it instantly to take every single dime.
You can avoid this buy only buying gift cards that are in secure packages. If anything about the packaging or the scratch-off foil looks funny, don’t buy it. You can also avoid being cheated by purchasing gift cards via email, rather than purchasing a physical card.
6. The Cheapskate’s Sweepstakes
Lots of people, but especially seniors, fall for this one. You receive a check in the mail for a lottery or sweepstakes that you probably don’t remember entering, but what the heck, right? Money is money! This one, however, will cost you a great deal of money if you follow the instructions that come with that check.
Your very official looking letter explains that the check is a portion of your winnings and that you need to deposit it, then wire the company back some of this money to cover the cost of wiring you the remainder of the money or to pay for the taxes or whatever excuse the scammer thinks will work.
That check is worthless. Now you will not only be dinged by your bank for that bad check, but you will lose that money you wired to the scammers. If you won a lottery, the company would withhold taxes or pay any “fees” out of your winnings. There is zero need for you to pay one dime for something that you supposedly “won”.
7. The Tech Support Escort
For those who might know enough about computers to surf the web but don’t know enough about them to realize when something is truly wrong, this is for you. Scammers often use the phone for this one, convincing you that they are from Microsoft or Apple and that they have detected a serious security threat with your computer. They act like they have your best interests at heart. They send you to a website to “fix” the problem, but in reality, it gives them remote access to your computer, allowing them to steal your passwords, tax information, bank records, you name it.
Neither Microsoft nor Apple will call you regarding your computer. If you are having problems, you call them! Security issues are fixed via updates, not by going to websites. You should also not click on any links in emails, no matter how official they look, or download any program from an email. These are often malware sites or viruses.
8. The Utility Player
No one likes the thought of having a utility shut off, especially just before a long holiday weekend or a brutal cold snap. Scammers like to pick these times to place their devious phone call. They will call and tell you that they are about to shut off your electricity, water, what have you, if you don’t pay right now. Of course, they won’t listen to your pleas that you paid, and you have a cancelled check or other proof of payment. They will tell you that you will have to bring that to the office later and if a mistake was made, they will refund your money, but they must be paid right now or shut off is imminent! Like other scams, these con-artists either ask you to make a payment by buying gift cards and reading them the numbers or they ask you to give them your checking account info.
Utility companies do not work this way. They will never take a payment via gift cards! Utility companies send several letters at least, warning of a shut off, before action is taken. If you have any doubt, hang up and call the number listed on your utility bill so you aren’t scammed out of your hard-earned cash.
9. Your Health For Their Wealth
This scam uses the US mail, email, or sometimes even late-night TV commercials. Fake health products, such as anti-aging creams, cholesterol blockers, herbal “cures” for diabetes, and other outrageous health claims target seniors who want to improve their health.
These products are worthless at best and potentially harmful at worst. Many of these companies put you on an “instant renewal” system, charging your credit card every month for overpriced items that do nothing. When you try to cancel, they agree to do so, but continue to charge you anyway. Also, thoseclaims about a “30-day money back guarantee” are almost always fake. You pay to send the product back, but you still won’t get your refund.
Be aware that there is no “miracle” cure for diabetes or magic cream to stop wrinkles. Do some research online before buying any product online or from a television commercial.
10. The Charity Disparity
This must be one of the biggest scams around. Empathy is a good thing, but scammers use it to their advantage to take your money. This one works in every possible way, from door to door money collectors to emails, letters in the US mail asking for donations to social media ads. The scam is basically the same, however, only the name of the charity changes.
Usually, the person asks for donations for some current event that you are aware of, such as hurricane or earthquake victims. Other’s use a more general approach, altering the name of a well-known charity slightly so you don’t really notice, perhaps calling themselves “The Red Red Cross” You might think it’s just a typo, if you notice at all. The only “charities” receiving this money are the thieves themselves. Never give money to any charity unless you are 100% certain you know who you are giving to.
11. The Time Share Scare
It’s a common theme among time share owners to have a love/hate relationship with their investment. Time share payments can be a burden, and many times the owners don’t use the properties like they once did when they were younger. Selling the timeshare when you grow older sounds good in theory, but unloading one isn’t easy as it sounds as timeshares are becoming less and less desirable among younger generations. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what scammers are counting on.
Thieves set up fake websites that claim they have have sold millions of dollars in timeshares and that they can do the same for you. They make it sound easy and have a very impressive site that shows lots of testimonials from other “happy customers.” They only ask for a small fee (ranging from a few hundred to a few thousands) dollars to sell your unit quickly. Of course, they take off with the money, never to be seen or heard from again. You should not have to pay a fee to sell your time share. If the company is legit, they will take any fees out of the price of the sale.
12. The Digital Romantic
Many older adults are using online dating websites and social media to find love after 50. Whether they are widowed, divorced, or just plain single, many simply want companionship or a last shot at finding love. Unfortunately, it is all too common that rather than finding what they are looking for, many love-seekers find thieves who are in love with only with stealing their money.
Almost all of these “sham relationships” have one thing in common, the scammers on the other end never wants to meet in person. They might say they are in the military and are stationed overseas. They could also claim to be overseas on business or maybe even an expat living in another country. Typically scammers will ask for small amounts of money at first for something trivial like an overdue internet bill. Later the requests get more expensive, such as asking you for money to buy a plane ticket to come visit the you.
As you can imagine, the trip is always postponed and the amounts requested gradually increase. They will string someone on for as long as they are willing to pay, promising eternal love the entire time. Never send money to someone overseas that you don’t know!
13. The Silent Robo Call
This is perhaps the easiest scam for the thieves. Have you ever picked up your phone with the usual “Hello” and gotten no answer? You can hear someone or something on the other end, but no one talks. So, you say “Hello?” again. Or someone might ask you, “did you say Hello?” and you, of course, reply “Yes”. Then they hang up. What was that all about? How can this be a scam?
These are usually robocalls that are recording your voice. They use it for a wide number of scams, including accepting collect calls using your number as a spoof call. If you have ever had to wait for a third party on the phone for you to say “yes” to agree to buy some product, such as an extended warranty, then you understand how this works. It’s hard to not say something when the phone rings, but if you don’t know the number on the caller ID, simply wait for the other person to talk first and if no one does, hang up.
14. The Pyramid Scheme
Everyone wants to earn a little money, but pyramid (sometimes called Ponzi scams) schemes only make money for the crooks at the top. This scam works by convincing you that, by recruiting other people, you can make mega-bucks. For example, you pay $100 to the person on the top of the list and add your name to the bottom of the list, then you mail the list to 10 people. When your name comes around, you would make in the area of $100,000. Sounds great, right?
The obvious problem here is, what if no one pays? And every person on that list needs to recruit 10 people. After a while, the numbers are so big, this entire thing falls apart, meaning only the people who started it got any money. This is just an example and there are thousands of schemes out there. The thing to remember is that if you must recruit people in order to make money, it’s a scam and you should avoid it.
15. The International Sham Of Mystery
For seniors who might be looking forward to retiring abroad, there are plenty of scammers just waiting for you! These scams vary, but often they involve renting or buying houses that don’t exist, offering to “help” you with your immigration papers for that country, or translating documents for you. These scammers come across as very helpful and try to make your “transition” easier, but all they really want is your money.
There are plenty of help groups on social media sites that can offer you advice about what you need to do before you move abroad. All countries have embassy sites online that can answer most of your questions and google chrome or other browsers can translate pages for you when needed. Never buy property or cars sight unseen, no matter how trustworthy a person might seem. Take several vacations to your intended new country and meet other expats who can also offer you valuable advice.
16. The Funeral Fraudster
This scam has been around probably as long as funerals have been around! The scam works in one of the following three ways.
- After reading an obituary, the thief either calls the family or actually has the nerve to attend the funeral. They claim that the deceased owed them money and they offer to “settle” the debt for less than the amount owed out of respect. There is no debt, but you would be surprised how many people pay because they are grieving and aren’t thinking clearly.
- After reading an obit and finding out when and where the funeral will be, the criminal waits until everyone has left for the funeral to rob the house of the deceased. Avoid leaving the house unattended and don’t list the deceased person’s address in obits or on social media sites.
- Some unscrupulous funeral homes will try to make the most out of your grief by padding their bill with unnecessary expenses, such as a more expensive casket. Ask someone else to help you make decisions, so you don’t spend more money than necessary or prepay for your funeral in advance.
17. The Bobby Double
This is a popular scam that has thieves looking through social media accounts for information. They might notice that grandson Bobby is taking a little vacation to Mexico. They find Bobby’s grandparents info also on social media. The grandparents then get an emergency phone call with a very bad connection from someone claiming to be Bobby.
The story varies at this point; Bobby might be in a Mexican jail and needs money to be bailed out, or maybe he was in a car wreck and needs to pay the hospital bill. Other times Bobby gets mugged and needs money for a return plane ticket. Grandparents are so upset they wire money immediately, only to find out later that Bobby was never in any danger and he didn’t call.
No one wants to leave a loved one in the lurch, but you don’t want to be scammed either. Ask this person something only they would know (what color was your first bicycle?) or you can give out some fake information (did you call Uncle John? When Bobby has no Uncle John) and see if they fall for it, revealing who they really are.
18. The Grieving Widow
Every con-artist knows that emotions can leave us vulnerable. Widows tend to be especially vulnerable since many times the husband took care of many financial aspects of their lives that the widow knows nothing about. These ruthless crooks look through the obits for elderly widows. After the funeral, they contact the widow, often in person, claiming to be some bank official or an IRS agent and claim that the deceased owes them money. They might offer to “help” the widow by putting the house in her name only, but really, the widow is signing the house over to them.
Never pay or sign anything while you are grieving. Take the persons information and have a trusted family member help you sort things out. There is nothing that cannot wait a few days, regardless of what these con artists might tell you.
19. Home Repair Despair
Like the reverse mortgage scam, some very honest looking men show up in a work truck, offering free services of some kind (gutter cleaning, for example) in order to advertise their business. Once up on the roof, this scam has two scenarios:
- The “workers” will find that the home needs roof repair or chimney repair and offer to fix it for the cost of parts only. They will ask for the money upfront to buy the material, or ask for half, then they will collect the other half when they finish the work. Once they have your money, they never return.
- One worker takes you outside to show you damage that he found and spends time writing up an estimate and asking you questions, while the second thief goes inside and takes cash, jewelry, laptops, anything he can carry out the back door. They often leave you with an estimate and an empty house.
Never pay for anything in advance. Take their estimate, if you like, but tell them you must speak to someone else and that you have no cash on hand. Later, you can check them out with the BBB. If someone asks you to go outside, you can either refuse or be certain that you lock the house and can see both men at all times.
20. The Telephone Drug Thug
Many seniors take prescription drugs and are often looking for cheaper ways to get their prescriptions in order to save money. Scam artists know this and take advantage of the situation. Most will send emails offering to sell common prescription drugs, such as blood pressure medication, for extremely cheap prices. This scam works by getting your credit card info and never sending you anything.
Never buy medication online unless you know the company. Any company offering to sell you prescription medication without a prescription is probably not legitimate. And the old saying about “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is” applies here. Drug prices that cost 1/3 of what you would pay in the US is probably a scam. Some pharmacies in other countries, such as those in India, also do not have the same standards as the US. Since you don’t know what is in the pills they might send, you could be risking your life to save a few bucks.
21. The Uncle Sham
Ugh. No one wants to be in trouble with Uncle Sam. Which is why some of these government imposters who look and sound so convincing made out with more than $328 million in 2017. Sometimes the scammers call pretending to be someone from a government office such as the county clerk’s office, saying that you need to pay a fine because you failed to respond to a jury duty summons or some other type of scam. Other’s actually have the nerve to show up at your door claiming to be from the tax assessor’s office and demanding that you pay for some obscure “back taxes” that you owe.
Be aware that no one from any government office will contact you by phone. Social security, Medicare, not even the IRS or county tax collector will call you or even show up at your house without sending you several letters first. Never give money, checks, or credit card info to anyone, just because they claim to be a government official.
22. The Fakebook
When Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg stated that he was going to give away half of his fortune, every scammer in the world saw this as a great opportunity to snag some of your cash. Some of these thieves are good, sending people messages showing other Facebook “lottery winners” with their checks and using profiles which identify them as “Official Employees of Facebook.” They tell you that you either must fly to California to pick up the money, or you need to send X number of dollars, so they can FedEx the check to you. These criminals have already chosen you based on your profile. They know you are needy and will fall all over yourself to get some much-needed cash.
If you didn’t already know, Zuckerberg IS giving away money, but NOT to individuals. You did not win anything on Facebook, no matter how convincing it looks. If you get contacted, report them to Facebook, then block them. Never put your phone number or email on Facebook either so they can’t contact you that way or try to reach you to test out another scam.
23. The Skimmer Scammer
Before you put any debit card or credit card into a machine, whether its to pay for gas or get cash from an ATM, take a few seconds to check out the card reader. Known as “skimmers”, thieves place small devices directly over the card reader. These devices record your card info and your code as you punch it in. You will think the machine is out of service, but it’s your bank account that is about to get dinged in a big way.
Gas stations are perhaps the biggest risk. You can avoid this by paying inside. You can also give that reader a little pull or knock it on the side to see if it falls off.
Stand-alone ATM’s, like the kind seen in convenience stores, can also use skimmers, but thieves tend to be a bit more creative with these. Cameras are common on ATM’s, so you won’t think anything about seeing one. Unfortunately, this camera isn’t pointed at your face, but at the keyboard. It will take pics of your card and your PIN to use later. Always conceal your hand as you use your pin and set up alerts with your bank so that you get a text message or email every time your card is used.
24. The Fake-cation Rental
This is an old scam that works even better now that thieves have access to the internet. The scam is basically the same for any type of vacation rental. You see some beautiful and enticing pictures online. The price is reasonable, and the owner always seems to claim that “someone just cancelled” so you feel lucky.
They will insist that you pay upfront and in advance. Sometimes, they even FedEx you a set of phony keys! You think you are set, only to find out that either the property doesn’t exist, isn’t what the picture shows, or someone else owns it or is living in it!
This also happens with vacation packages, sold by fly-by-night online companies. These are generally “all inclusive” packages that include pick up from the airport, luxurious hotel suites, free breakfast, entertainment, blah, blah, blah. You pay, and they promise to email you the airline ticket vouchers “soon.” They never arrive, of course, and the company is no longer found online. You’ve been scammed.
Use only well-known travel sites or sites like Airbnb, which have safeguards in place to avoid scams like these.
25. Faith Chasers
Whether these are dating sites for Christians or social media groups, scammers are using these sites to find new victims. Many people, especially the older crowd, fall for these because they don’t believe that another Christian will “con” them. They do, and they have!
The scams on these sites vary, but they generally get friendly, then start asking for money. Sometimes, they even meet you in person for coffee and prayer, then pick your pocket or ask for money to “tide them over” during some emergency. Others pull the long-distance lover trick, asking you to send money for airline tickets, bus tickets, or to help pay for their sick mother’s medicine. You should never send money to people you don’t know and be very careful meeting with people you know only from online groups. Always have a friend go with you and meet somewhere very public.
I am an extremely verbal person who excels (and profusely enjoys) writing and/or talking about anything and everything! I am retired now and living in beautiful Mexico. I love writing… Did I mention that?