ST. LOUIS — The Better Business Bureau’s latest Risk Report contains a warning for seniors. Scammers are finding new ways to target them and getting more of their money in the process.
The 2019 Risk Report says that reports to the BBB showed that seniors paid more when they fell for a scam. On average, seniors paid around $150 more than other age groups.
Plus, scammer strategies are changing during COVID-19. Criminals using the phone and social media are pretending to be government employees to offer COVID-19 testing kits and contact tracing in exchange for personal information.
Last year, the BBB found that seniors lost the most money to travel-related scams. This year, vacations may be on hold, but it hasn’t stopped scammers from costing Missourians money.
Royce Scott told the BBB that he felt his family was the victim of one such scam. He heard that Square One Development could help him get out of a timeshare his family didn’t use anymore. He paid the company $9,000 with the expectation that it could end the timeshare contract within a year, or he would get his money back.
The BBB has almost 50 customer complaints against that company. Timeshare and timeshare exit companies across the state have accumulated thousands more complaints from unhappy customers.
When the I-Team interviewed Scott in July, Square One had told him it couldn’t do what he wanted, and it did not offer to return his money.
Chris Thetford with the BBB says people target seniors for travel-related scams because they often pay for family trips.
“It makes sense that those tend to hit older purchasers more than younger purchases because of the resources that they bring into the economy, to be able to afford that,” said Thetford.
Other kinds of scams that targeted seniors for the most money last year were home improvement scams and romance scams.
Home improvement scams involve offers over the phone or at the door to perform house repairs, like roofing or duct cleaning. Unscrupulous people offer to do the work for money up front, and then they never finish the work or do a poor job that wasn’t worth the cost.
Romance scams often take place over social media or dating apps. Scammers prey on people looking for love, asking for money or gifts from people they never meet face-to-face based on promises they’ll be together someday.
Thetford says that the isolation and worry that many people are feeling now makes them vulnerable, and scammers know it.
“The fear element is a huge factor in the decisions that people make, and scammers are more than happy to take advantage of that,” said Thetford. “We're all doing things online in greater amounts of time than we've ever done them before, that proves to be fertile ground for people who want to take advantage of anyone who’s on those platforms.”
He added that keeping seniors safe starts with conversation.
“Remember that communicating is a two way street. Partly by communicating what you understand is going on in the environment…about the different kinds of scams and how they impact people,” said Thetford. “The other part of communication is listening, so listening to our family members as they tell us stories and they're relating what they're experiencing online or through phone calls, or however it is they're being communicated with, so that we can then give them good information that helps protect them and protect their assets.”
Two months after the I-Team aired its story with Scott, Square One is offering Scott his money back. He already got himself out of his timeshare contract.
In a statement to 5 On Your Side, Square One owner LouAnn Reed wrote, “Since you indicated he has successfully been released from his Marriott timeshare contract we will be happy to refund his money.”
“Scammers don’t refund clients, we do, as our money back guarantee states,” she added.
The 2019 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report is available on the BBB’s website. To see details about the kinds of scams that the BBB tracks and how to avoid them, check out the Scam Studies page on their website.