Last summer, a phone scam claiming seniors could receive a free medical device swept across the country. People who answered the phone were told to enter credit card or bank information as well as their address, and a medical alert device would be mailed to their home. The scam has made a comeback with a few additional attempts to bait older adults in retirement communities and those still living in their homes.
People began reporting the fishy situation on AARP's Fraud Watch Network, bringing attention to the misleading calls. The robocall scam says the device itself will be free, but financial and personal information is required for monitoring fees. Two new versions try to entice seniors by saying they will also receive $3,000 in coupons or that the device is being offered by AARP.
When you answer the phone, the call will tell you to press "one" if you want the device or "five" if you want to be taken off the call list. The first option transfers you to a live operator who will use scare tactics to pressure you into sharing your financial details. Rather than removing your number from the list, pressing five confirms that your phone is functional so scammers can continue calling. People who have given out information have been billed for monitoring services and threatened with lawsuits for not paying the balance, though no one has ever received an actual device.
Scams are common across all age groups
The Federal Trade Commission compiled reports of fraud throughout 2013 to find the top national consumer complaints about fraud. The most common form of fraud was identity theft, but there were 121,720 complaints about imposter scams, like the free medical alert device. Other types of fraud include debt collection, telephone or mobile services, and bank and lender fraud.
Tips to stay scam-free
- Never provide personal information when you receive a robocall.
- Your phone service provider may have a way to block robocalls, but it's not guaranteed to protect you because scammers are always using different phone numbers.
- Just hang up the phone without pressing any keys.
- There are Internet-based systems and software that can alter phone numbers so they look like local callers or a legitimate business. Either way, AARP recommended reporting the numbers to ftc.gov/complaint or 1-888-382-1222.
- Find out how to avoid other senior scams and more on Erickson Living's blog.