When it comes to scams, seniors have to be on high alert.
"Anyone who has passed their 60th birthday has a target on their back," said Suzanne Cobb, director of the guardianship and money management program at the Senior Source.
In particular, scammers are looking for seniors who may have "executive-functioning deficits," or trouble with cognitive processes such as memory, reasoning, task flexibility and problem-solving.
"And if they can identify those persons, they move in to take every penny that person has in a very short period of time," Cobb said.
Cobb said she has seen case after case where seniors have accumulated enough money to take care of themselves only to lose it all to scams.
"Some of them know they've been scammed, but they absolutely can't help themselves," she said.
Those with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, often have trouble managing their money, said Robert Roush, director of the Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
In fact, research has shown that "if you have MCI, you're four times as likely to make a financial error as persons without the same condition," he said.
"It's just one of the neuro-biological things that affect our ability to make sound decisions," Roush said. "A lot of these things that are clinical ... can cause people to be less risk-averse."
The crooks know that.
"Although seniors are not necessarily defrauded at greater rates than younger consumers, certain types of scams are likely to affect older Americans," Charles Harwood, director of the Federal Trade Commission's northwest region office, said in congressional testimony last year.
The most common scams experts say you should be alert to are:
Romance scammers go after the lonely hearts.
"The scammers scout dating sites, chat rooms, blogs and social media networks to lure their victims into forming a relationship," according to MoneyGram, the Dallas-based money transfer firm. "They usually claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad. In reality, they often live overseas."
Their most common targets are women over 40, who are divorced, widowed or disabled. But every age group and demographic is at risk, MoneyGram said.
"The scams typically begin online, with the scammer quickly professing love for the victim," said Kim Garner, senior vice president of global security at MoneyGram. "After winning the victim's trust, the scammer will ask the victim to send money through a wire transfer, claiming the need for some type of emergency, custom or duty fees, or even for travel costs to finally meet the unsuspecting victim. Once the victim wires the money, they never hear from the scammer again."
Warning signs to watch out for:
Online conversations are filled with spelling and grammatical errors.
A profile photo doesn't match the alleged age or ethnicity of the person.
The person refuses to provide contact information or claims not to own a phone.
Your so-called relationship moves really fast.
The topic of money comes up quickly.
"Pay attention to the warning signs, and push back if you suspect a scam," Garner said. "Listen to your instincts, and never send money to someone you don't know or whom you have never met in person."
Fake prize promotions
"These prize/sweepstakes things -- they're obviously very deliberately targeting older people," said Steve Baker, director of the FTC's Midwest region. "They really are finding some people who are slipping. Then they go back and hit them again and again and again and again for more money."
Consumers between 55 and 74 had the greatest chance of being victims of fraudulent prize promotions, according to an FTC report last year on consumer fraud in the U.S.
What's more, those who had experienced a "serious negative life event," such as a death of a loved one, illness, divorce or job loss, were more than three times as likely to have been a victim of a fraudulent prize promotion, the FTC said.
A prize promotion is fraudulent, the FTC said, if you have to pay, purchase a product, or attend a sales presentation to receive the prize or other award -- and then you receive nothing in return or the prize wasn't what was promised.
"Anybody who wants any money for any reason before you get your prize — that makes it an illegal lottery if they collect any money," Baker said. "Nobody legitimate will ever collect any money in advance."
The crooks have now upped the stakes by impersonating government officials notifying consumers that they've won a prize, Baker said.
"A lot of prize scams are now calling and impersonating FBI or FTC people, telling them that because of all the problems with prize and lottery fraud, the government is now contacting winners so that people can know that they're dealing with somebody legitimate," he said. "I've gotten half a dozen calls over the last year from people who think I called them and told them they've won prizes."
The government isn't going to notify you that you're a big winner.
The grandparents con
"This is a huge one for our group," said Sid Kirchheimer, who writes a column on scams for AARP.
The grandparents scam works like this: Someone calls claiming to be the elderly person's grandson or granddaughter. The caller says there's an emergency and asks the senior to send money immediately. The "family member" could claim to have been arrested or gotten into an accident while traveling abroad.
The rub? It's not your relative who wants the money. It's a con artist, tugging at your heartstrings so he can reach into your wallet.
Hang up and contact your grandchild or his or her parents to verify whether the child is really in distress. Don't ever wire any funds or provide any financial information.
And don't let anyone take advantage of you because of your age.
Follow Pamela Yip on Twitter at @pamelayip.
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