Five Scams Against Senior Citizens


Staff Report



More than 35,000 people have reported scams to BBB Scam Tracker since it was launched in 2015. Analysis shows that the top five scams that target seniors age 65 and older, and how often they are conned, are:

  • Tax Collection Scam: more than 2,400 reported to Scam Tracker, fewer than 1% lost money
  • Sweepstakes/Lottery/Prizes Scam: more than 800 reported, 10% lost money
  • Tech Support Scam: more than 500 reported, 30% lost money
  • Debt Collections: nearly 250 reported, 2% lost money
  • Government Grants: close to 200 reported, 6% lost money

Seniors have gotten the message, loud and clear, that scammers target them, especially for investment scams, tech support scams and imposter scams (“Grandmas, I’ve been arrested in Mexico. Please send money!”). Seniors are doing their homework to become educated about con artists and their tactics. Even more surprising, young people – despite their tech-savvy nature – are more vulnerable to scams than seniors according to research from BBB.

The research was conducted by the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust (BBB Institute) and is available at BBB.org/TruthAboutScams. BBB surveyed more than 2,000 adults in the U.S. and Canada. Questions were about the respondents’ perceived vulnerability to scams, who they think is most likely to be scammed, and about the factors that helped them to avoid being scammed. The participants did not know that BBB was the sponsor of the survey.

Stereotypes usually paint scam victims as vulnerable and elderly, or gullible and poorly educated, but those assumptions are wrong. Everyone is at risk but, surprisingly, younger and more educated individuals are actually the most likely to be scammed. Marketplace scams affect one in four North American households each year at an estimated loss to individuals and families of $50 billion, yet most consumers believe they are invulnerable.

Although seniors are the most scam-savvy group, too many are still losing money. BBB reminds seniors – and all consumers – to be cautious whenever someone you don’t know asks for money, personally identifying information, access to your computer or records, etc. Report scams to BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Research businesses at BBB.org.

For more information, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.

BBB Warns That Scams Could Be Part Of Your College Experience

August 18, 2016 – Columbus, OH – College students will head off to school this fall to learn more about their fields, but they may also get experience with scammers.

According to recent research conducted by Better Business Bureau, millennials are more susceptible than any other generation when it comes to scams. This semester, college students should educate themselves on the types of scams they could be subjected to.

BBB has a list of scams for college students and their parents to look out for this school year:

Student loan forgiveness companies: Many companies will promise debt relief but will charge students money for a free plan that already exists or not help the students at all after receiving payment.

Off-Campus Rentals: If you pay to rent an apartment without knowing the physical location, it may be offered to multiple people at once, or may not even exist. You most likely would not find out until your deposit and first month’s rent check are already cashed. As always, research before paying for anything. The words “wire funds” are usually a red flag.

Roommate Scheme: If you post an ad for a roommate on Craigslist, beware of “fake roommates” who are out of the country, but can provide the rent upfront in the form of a money order. When you receive it, the amount is higher than the amount requested. You are asked to cash it and wire back the rest. Receiving money orders like this are a scam.

Employment: Beware of ads that pop up near campus offering jobs with “no experience necessary.” Often, these “opportunities” are bogus. If you are interviewed in a location such as a hotel lobby and are asked to pay for everything, including training, travel, lodging, food, etc. associated with the job, forget it!

Online Shopping Deals: You see a much-wanted item for a steep discount online. The catch? The site asks you to wire payment to them instead of using a credit card. Once the money is sent, the item is never received. Always order from sites that have a lock and an https:// address.

Illegal Downloads: It may be tempting to save money by downloading free music, movies, or textbooks, but many contain spyware that can end up causing financial havoc. Furthermore, you could get in trouble with your school if you download illegally while using their Wi-Fi.

Credit Cards: While it is important to build credit, it is more important to maintain good credit. Many of these cards have annual fees or charge high-interest rates on purchases. Shop around for the best rate and pay off your credit card bills every month. Before signing up for a credit card, research the company at bbb.org.

Trial Offers: From fitness club memberships to magazine subscriptions to acne medicine, diet pills, or free downloads, know how much these products and services are going to cost you once the “Free Trial Offer” expires. Always read the fine print and don’t accidentally commit to something you don’t want or can’t afford.

Safeguard Your ID: Keep your personal information, including your driver’s license, student ID, debit cards, credit cards, and bank information in a SAFE place. Be wary of any online solicitations, emails, social media sites, or phone calls asking for your personal information. NEVER give out personal information to someone you do not know.

Social Security Number: Do not carry your social security number around with you. Keep it locked in a safe place at home. If your school requires your social security number, ask plenty of questions. How is the information stored? Who has access to it? What is it being used for? How will it be protected?

About BBB

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2015, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org.

For more information, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.

Living Off Campus? BBB Has Tips For College Students

August 15, 2016 – Columbus, OH – For Central Ohio’s 61 colleges and universities, fall semester is just around the corner. Students are beginning to pack up and move, and for many who aren’t living in campus housing, that means living off campus with a landlord for the school year.

Whether you’re living alone for the first time or moving in with roommates, it’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and review the lease again prior to moving in. Better Business Bureau has tips to help students be successful while renting.

Before You Move In

Know your cosigners. Students will often combine friend groups or ask an acquaintance to live with them in order to fill a house. Make an effort to speak with and learn about your cosigners before you live in a shared space.

Figure out how you are going to pay your bills (utilities, cable, gas, etc). It may be that each resident is in charge of paying a different bill and then lets the others know how much they owe them. Paying bills can be complicated and stressful, so developing a plan early on is beneficial.

Determine how you’ll handle the cleaning. Who will be in charge of what? It could be helpful to make a cleaning schedule giving each house member a different duty.

Discuss rules regarding guests. What times are appropriate for visitors?

Moving Into an Apartment or House

Document your new home’s move-in condition. Note every flaw or defect on your move-in condition form so that you aren’t held responsible for those damages later.

Take photos of your apartment/house. Before you bring anything in, take photos of the floors, walls, appliances, windows and anything else you may be held liable for after you move out. The photos will help you have documentation available if a dispute were to arise between you and the landlord after moving out.

Keep a copy of your lease in a safe place that can easily be referenced.

Meet with your landlord and discuss lawn care expectations. How often are they going to mow the lawn, and will they supply salt and help shovel in the winter? What will you be responsible for?

Familiarize yourself with Ohio’s Tenant/Landlord Rights and Obligations.

Going on Vacation or Away for Break

Notify your landlord that you will be away, and let them know how long. They will need to know how to reach you if there is a problem, and can make sure to keep an eye on your apartment/home.

Leave your curtains opened to the amount you’d usually have them while at home. If they are completely open, anyone can clearly see no one is home. If they are closed, your home could look suspicious and your landlord would not be able to see inside if there is a problem.

Unplug appliances including your television, toaster, and desktop computer if you have one. This will protect your appliances from power surges and help save power.

Don’t leave your lights on. Your electric bill will be high and lights on at all hours of the night may look a little strange. Renters can consider purchasing a light switch timer that can be programmed to turn your lights on and off automatically.

If you are searching for last minute living arrangements, be able to identify the red flags of a rental scam:

The deal sounds too good to be true.

The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to only communicate via email.

The landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the property.

The landlord discloses the actual location of the property and won’t provide an address.

The landlord asks the renter to wire money.

Former Shark Tank Contestant Closes Business, Leaves Customers High and Dry

August 3, 2016 – Columbus, OH – BBB received information from customers including an email reportedly from GiftCardRescue.com CEO & Founder, Kwame Kuadey, that the season one Shark Tank contestant had closed his business effective, July 15, 2016.

In the email provided to BBB, Kuadey wrote, “Our company was forced to shut down last week when a lender to the company (with whom we have been trying to negotiate a temporary forbearance) went to court and got a judgment against our company. With that judgment, they placed a hold on our business bank account, depleting all the funds in our account. Without access to our operating account, we had no choice but to shut down.” The EY Entrepreneur of the Year™ 2014 Maryland winner told customers, “Gift cards that were purchased before July 15th have all been shipped to buyers. Gift cards received in the mail within the last two weeks from sellers that were yet to be processed are being returned to senders. If you have a pending payment or are awaiting a refund, you will receive a separate communication.”

Due to the notice of its closure, GiftCardRescue.com does not have a BBB rating. However, the company’s BBB Business Review reflects 298 complaints in the last three years with 257 of those closed in the last 12 months. Ohio is one of the 43 states to have consumers complain to their local BBB. One complainant told Central Ohio BBB they ordered a $250 gift card that had a balance of $0 when they received it. Other complainants never received the checks for their gift cards, or had the checks bounce. In each case, consumers were unable to communicate with the business despite multiple telephone calls, messages, and emails.

BBB worries that complaints could increase sharply as news of Kuadey, a Johns Hopkins M.B.A. graduate, and the demise of GifeCardRescue.com spread.

BBB advises consumers due payments or gift cards to seek legal counsel and file a complaint at bbb.org.

Ohio State Fair Purchases: Remember These Rules

July 27th, 2016 – Columbus, OH – As the weekend approaches, Central Ohio prepares to host the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. Besides culinary novelties and family fun, attendees also have the opportunity to view business’ booths and products. While it’s easy to get caught up in the curious crowd, Better Business Bureau wants consumers to remember that day-to-day purchasing rules still apply before making decisions.

Last year, the Ohio State Fair set a new record with an estimated 932,305 total visitors. The fair’s surveys show that 78% of guests will visit vendors in their commercial buildings and thousands will frequent the outdoor exhibitions and concession spaces.

If you plan on attending the Ohio State Fair this weekend, keep these BBB tips in mind:

Do your research. BBB Business Reviews are optimized for smartphones. You can research companies for free at bbb.org or by calling 614-486-6336.

Before making a purchase, get the company’s refund and exchange policies in writing. Also, obtain the company’s physical location and telephone number in case you need to return or exchange your item.

Do some comparison shopping before buying, but remember that the least expensive item may not always be the best value.

Don’t be pressured to buy, no matter how pushy the salesperson may be. After the demonstration or sales pitch, give yourself some time to think.

Ask the vendor if a sale price will be honored after the State Fair. If so, you will not feel as pressured to purchase the item on the spot.

It’s important to note that the Federal Trade Commission’s “cooling-off rule,” which normally allows consumers three days to cancel a purchase, does not apply to the following purchases at fairs:

Purchases under $25;

Goods or services not primarily intended for personal, family, or household purposes;

Insurance, securities, or real estate;

Motor vehicles; and

Arts and crafts.

If you are making a purchase where the “cooling-off rule” does apply but you need to cancel a sale, sign and date a copy of the company’s cancellation form. Ask for the form when you make your purchase. If you mail the form back to the company, be sure it is postmarked before midnight of the third business day after you made the purchase.

“Invulnerability Illusion” Means Millennials More Likely to Get Scammed than Boomers

New BBB research shows optimism bias is widespread; we all think others are more vulnerable… and scammers count on that

July 25th 2016 – Columbus, OH – The stereotype of the “little old lady” as scam victim is wrong, and Millennials are actually more vulnerable to scams than Baby Boomers. That’s the conclusion of new research by the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust (BBB Institute). Marketplace scams affect one in four North American households each year at an estimated loss to individuals and families of $50 billion, yet most consumers believe they are invulnerable.

“This research is so vital, not only to stop scammers from hurting consumers, but to help businesses,” said Mary E. Power, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB). “That $50 billion ‘underground’ economy is stealing from the legitimate marketplace. Every dollar lost to a scam is a dollar not spent at a lawful, trustworthy business.”

The research, Cracking the Invulnerability Illusion: Stereotypes, Optimism Bias, and the Way Forward for Marketplace Scam Education, is based on a survey of more than 2,000 adults in the U.S. and Canada. Participants were asked about their perceived vulnerability to scams, who they think is most likely to be scammed, and about the factors that helped them to avoid being scammed. The participants did not know that BBB was the sponsor of the survey.

Download “Cracking the Invulnerability Illusion” at BBB.org/TruthAboutScams

“We’ve bought into stereotypes about scam victims – they’re usually seen as vulnerable and elderly, or gullible and poorly educated,” noted the paper’s co-author Emma Fletcher, product manager with the BBB Institute, CBBB’s foundation. “These stereotypes are strongly held… and they are wrong. We are all at risk, but younger and more educated individuals are actually the most likely to be scammed.”

“Optimism bias – the idea that we all think other people are more vulnerable than we are – is associated with risk-taking and failure to heed precautionary advice,” said co-author Rubens Pessanha, CBBB director of marketing research and insights. “Seniors may be the one group that does not suffer from optimism bias when it comes to scams. They’ve heard, loud and clear, that they are at risk. Seniors may very well be morescam savvy than others. They are also less impulsive buyers than younger consumers, and less likely to be making purchases online where so many scams take place.”

The new research also confirms some trends noted in BBB Scam Tracker, a crowd-sourced reporting tool. More than 30,000 consumers have reported details of scams to BBB since the site was launched in late 2015, and reports are shared with law enforcement to drive investigations. Of those consumers reporting scams to BBB Scam Tracker, 89% of seniors (age 65 and up) recognized the scam in time, while only 11% reported actually losing money. For those age 18-24, however, more than three times as many failed to recognize the scam – 34% reported losing money. Armed with this information, BBB is calling for a new direction for how society approaches the problem of fraud. The report recommends a three-pronged approach:

Leverage Technology, Crowdsourcing and Altruism: Targets of scams feel empowered when they can take back some control by reporting what has happened to them in order to help warn others. This altruistic impulse is the number one motivator for reporting scams. As noted in the report, “The voices and stories of others have the potential to normalize the problem in a positive way, shedding the shame and stigma of victimization with the message that, if it can happen to other people like me, it can happen to me.”

Take Aim at the Optimism Bias: Consumer education must heighten perceptions of personal risk and provide information that boosts confidence in one’s ability to protect oneself. Motivation to take protective action requires both the sense that one is vulnerable and the tools to do something about it. Effective public education must take a twofold approach; it must confront its audience with messaging that runs counter to stereotypes and perceived invulnerability, while simultaneously providing information that empowers individuals to avoid becoming victims.

Provide Preemptive Information: Survey participants, when asked what might have prevented them from being scammed, said knowing about different scam types and understanding common methods used by scammers prior to being targeted would have helped. Nearly 80% of respondents identified one of these two factors as most protective; only one in five felt doing research after being approached by a scammer was most protective.

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Staff Report

About BBB

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2015, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org.

About BBB

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2015, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org.

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