It's all over the news: scams targeting the elderly are on the rise. Whether it's an offshore lottery scheme, a Medicare Part D scam, or outright theft by caregivers or trusted friends, seniors are vulnerable to scam artists. This population is an easy target for scammers, reports the Washington Post, because seniors are less likely to report fraud or theft out of embarrassment or fear of having to testify. Without an investigation, criminals are less likely to get caught.Blank check

The Post reports that each year, seniors lose $2.6 billion to thieves -- often family members and, unfortunately, even staff from service agencies and assisted living homes. A common scam involves a small team of handymen or repairmen who offer to do work on an elderly person's home, charging outrageous fees for work that was never done and didn't need to be done in the first place.

Scam artists are even taking advantage of the Medicare Part D program. Thieves contact seniors and ask for personal information, such as Social Security numbers and bank account numbers, under the guise of signing them up for a Part D plan -- or, more recently, claiming to need personal information in order to issue a $250 rebate check. Representatives from insurance companies offering Part D plans are NOT permitted to sign seniors up over the phone, unless the senior initiates the phone call, and no legitimate calls are being made to seniors in regard to the rebate checks; the checks are issued automatically to those who qualify.

Preventing scams

Preventing scams against the elderly is a team effort. It's usually a good idea for seniors to allow a family member access to their financial reports, so they can monitor statements for odd patterns or unusual purchases. It's a better idea to allow two trusted family members access to the same documents, so they can cross-monitor each other. Physicians, banks, and social service agencies should provide education to seniors on fraud and scams and report suspicions.

Most importantly, caregivers should keep an eye out for suspicious happenings, especially if a loved one lives alone in his own home. If possible, monitor financial statements and be involved in any major purchases or home repairs.

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