5 Practical steps you can take now
Most of us with elderly parents or grandparents living by themselves at home are concerned about elder fraud and scams. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. The FBI’s official website has multiple pages posted on the subject. One extremely eye opening page lists the reasons why senior citizens in particular are targeted as victims of fraud. As it turns out, some of the reasons the elderly are targeted for fraud are the same reasons they are targeted by legitimate vendors and services.
“…some of the reasons the elderly are targeted for fraud are the same reasons they are targeted by legitimate vendors and services.”
For example, the website states:
- “Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them an attractive target to con artists.”
- “People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.”
- “Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on…”
Frankly, in each of the spots where “con artist” is mentioned, you could just as easily replace that phrase with “salesman”. To be clear, there is a huge difference between someone who is seeking to take advantage of an elderly person, and a salesman who may market to a senior citizens as a section of their target audience. However, there can still be some complications with even reputable businesses that may contact our seniors by phone or mail to solicit services.
Let me give you a very simple, but real scenario. A local newspaper is calling every home in their area offering a 2 week free subscription to their newspaper. There is no obligation to purchase, but the responsibility is on the customer to contact the newspaper after the two week trial to cancel the service. Otherwise, the papers will continue to arrive daily and an invoice will be sent to the home address. Assuming the customer understood the terms, and agreed to it, there wouldn’t be an issue as long as they remembered to call and cancel the service. However, if that customer was an elderly person with hearing or memory difficulties, you can easily guess where there may be trouble. They may not have clearly understood, even if they said they understood at the time. They may not remember to cancel the service. And they may forget that an invoice is heading their way.
Versions of the above scenario happen all the time. And its difficult to lay the blame on the reputable salesperson who believed they were speaking with someone who clearly understood the conversation.
This means, in addition to fraud, we may need to protect some of our aged loved ones from even legitimate sales calls and mail offers. How can this be done? Let’s start with 5 free ways that you can implement now:
Similar to most blogs, the following suggestions are for informational purposes only as stated in our disclaimer.
1. National Do Not Call Registry
The first is the most obvious, but still very useful. Help your relative register their number on the national do not call list. You can call them: 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) Or you can go online: https://www.donotcall.gov/ If you go online and register your number at donotcall.gov, you’ll get an email with a link you need to click on within 72 hours to complete your registration. Please note this will apply to legitimate telemarketers. That by no means includes every sales call. So… the list must go on!
2. Nomorobo service and App
This service Nomorobo claims to stop robot sales calls and telemarketers. The landline version is free, and the mobile application version for both iPhone and Android is $1.99 per device. The Nomorobo website claims that all mobile carrier networks are compatible with their service. That being said, after trying to sign up for my grandmother’s home in California, the service prompted us with a message saying we needed to contact our local phone provider. So it may not be available to everyone. Fortunately, the website provides a list of all landline phone carriers they currently can offer service to. In fact Geoffrey A. Fowler of the Washington Post had some good things to say about the app, though he admitted it was “the slowest to add (his) test’s robocalls to its blacklist”.
Interestingly in June 2019, the FCC ruled that phone companies may, as a default, aggressively block unwanted robocalls before they reach consumers. The Commission also made clear that carriers could offer consumers the choice to opt-in to more advanced tools like basing blocking on their contact lists. A number of phone companies have implemented these aggressive “opt-in” features. Let’s consider an example of this with a major national phone carrier AT&T with our third way to reduce unwanted sales traffic.
3. Your current phone carrier’s existing free and paid call block services
If you are an AT&T customer they have a call blocking option for both regular landline, non-digital phones, as well as digital phone lines. For regular landline phones, the service is extremely limited. It only applies to 10 local phone numbers. Long distance isn’t included, and neither are 800 numbers. A small fee applies. Here’s how to activate and use the service: Press *60. If prompted, press 3 to turn the feature on. To add a number to your personal blacklist,press #, dial the 10-digit number you want to add, and press # to confirm. Repeat for each number you want to add. To remove one of these numbers from the list, press *, dial the 10-digit number you wish to remove, and press * to confirm. Repeat for each number you want to remove.
If you subscribe to AT&Ts digital phone service, it’s a huge advantage in terms of blocking unwanted calls. If you receive an unwanted call, simply press *61 after the call to turn on call blocking. This also automatically adds that number to your block list. Press *80 to turn call blocking off. What’s also nice is that these numbers can be added through your online AT&T account. Log in to your AT&T account at ATT.com and select “My Digital Phone”. Then select “Check or manage voicemail & features”. Then select “Phone features” tab at the top. And then in the “Call Filtering” section select the arrow next to call blocking. Then simply select “On” to start the call blocking feature. In the “Add” number field, enter the number including the area code and hit the “Add” button. Finally, hit “Save”. You can watch a video of the process here. Here’s whats great about the online feature – if you have online access and can view incoming callers on your monthly invoice, you can go through the list searching for any unusual phone numbers and add them to that list. If you are unsure about a phone number, you can always give it a call to see if it’s a business or not.
Have you ever received a call that has no caller ID? Press *77 to block callers who withhold their phone numbers. Anonymous callers will receive a message that you don’t accept calls without Caller ID info. You can unblock these calls anytime by pressing *87.
CAUTION: As I was writing this, I was reminded of the fact that many individuals like my grandmother use an emergency call system in case of accidents or falls. If you press your emergency button, these services often call your home or primary phone to double check if you need help. Whatever service your phone carrier provides, double check to make sure certain calls can still be received. Call your emergency service alert system provider first to see what they need to be able to reach you by phone, what number they call from, and whether that number can change.
It may be helpful to review AT&Ts list of related call blocking features through AT&T here.
Finally, based on the FCCs ruling in 2019, call your phone provider to see what services they offer to block unwanted calls. Be sure to clarify which are free and which are paid services.
4. Opt out of snail mail advertisements
You likely noticed we used the expression reducing sales ”traffic”, not simply sales calls. That is because several advertisements still come by mail nowadays. Why would anyone still consider using this increasingly archaic medium? Because it’s aimed at the one of the few remaining groups that still gets extremely excited over receiving mail, senior citizens. The mail is still a highlight of my grandmothers day. Until Covid-19 came along, she’d often meet the mailman on the porch with eager expectation in her eyes. Like, winning the “golden ticket” level anticipation. However I’ve found many pieces of mail while appearing to be official, are in fact not legitimate. They often provide a simple service for a fee that could otherwise be done for free. These are technically “legal”, but obviously designed to make the recipient feel there’s a legal obligation or critical need to use the service. Here’s where you can opt out of snail mail marketing: https://dmachoice.thedma.org/
5. Opt out of prescreened credit offers
Finally, here’s another marketing niche you can opt out of: prescreened credit offers. As we mentioned, many senior citizens have decent or very good credit. They naturally fall in to these categories of being prescreened for credit offers. Unless your loved one is in the market for a new credit account or loan, go to this website: https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t to opt out of prescreened credit offers. You can also call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688)
As long as there are senior citizens, there will be salespeople who will determinedly try to reach them to present all manner of sales offers, some good, some not so good. As a concerned friend or family member, we can reduce the amount of risk our loved ones are exposed to by helping them with some of the above steps.
Of course, every family and need is different. The above suggestions may not work or be appropriate for your particular situation. Have you tried any of these already? Did they help you in any way? Please let me know your experience and thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for your time!