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If It Sounds Too Good to Be True


Older Americans can be sitting ducks for crooks that want to rob them blind.


If It Sounds Too Good to Be True...

by D. Ray Lewis


While watching the local news recently, I was disturbed by the story of an elderly widow who had been scammed out of her life savings. Older Americans can be sitting ducks for crooks that want to rob them blind. Instead of a gun, these scoundrels use trickery and deceit. Seniors Beware!


Ten popular scams to guard against:

  1. Money Found. A stranger approaches you and claims to have found a bag with a large sum of money. This perfect stranger wants to share it with you! All you have to do is give them “good faith” money. As was the case in the news story above, the stranger will accompany you to your bank while you make a hefty withdrawal. When he gets your money, he will give you the bag and disappear. When you look inside the bag, you find no money. You are literally left “holding the bag.” Remember. Total strangers don't exist to make you rich…ever.

  2. Door-to-door Salesmen. While there are some honest door-to-door salespersons, in today’s world, there’s a good chance that the one who comes to your door is a rip-off artist. He may be selling anything from magazines to large ticket items. They might offer to do chores like painting, cleaning gutters, or minor repairs.

    Be careful. Door-to-door con artists are both charming and friendly. Their smiles are inviting. They are successful because they seem so honest. For your own safety, don't allow anyone you don't know into your home. It is okay to tell someone they can't come in.

  3. Sweepstakes. An excited caller breathlessly informs you that you have won a sweepstakes or a valuable prize, but in order to claim your prize, you have to wire them some money. Caution! You never have to send money to collect a prize or award. If you fall prey to this scam, you'll lose the money you wire.

  4. Nigerian Letter Scam. Don’t be taken in by individuals claiming to be Nigerian (or other foreign government officials or royalty) who offer you money to help them place large sums of money in overseas bank accounts. The catch? The con artist will ask you to send personal banking information or wire money to him. Rest assured. There is no foreign money; it’s just a scam to get your money.

  5. Home Repair Rip-off. Someone appears at your door saying they noticed your house needs repairs, and they will do the work quickly and cheaply. These repairs vary from simple yard work or paving your driveway to repairing or replacing your roof.

    Most home repair scam artists want all—or at least a large portion—of the money up front. Many times they leave before the work is finished and do not come back. Others do poor quality work, and never return to do it right. They have your money, and you still need the repairs done.

  6. Credit Card Offers. You receive a notice that you have been approved for a credit card. The credit card company asks you to wire a certain amount of money before they issue the credit card. Legitimate companies don't operate like this. You'll never receive the credit card. They just want your money.

  7. Offering To Purchase an Item From You. You have an item for sale. You advertise it on the internet or newspaper. Someone responds to your ad. He offers to pay for it with a check made out for more than the sale price. He asks you to deposit the check into your account and then wire them the difference. The check you receive is fake. When the check bounces, your bank will come after you for the total amount of the bad check. You lose both the amount of the fake check and the amount you send by wire (plus a bundle of bounced check fees).

  8. Internet Fraud. One example of internet fraud is persuading people to send money for merchandise but delivering nothing or items far less valuable than promised. Internet fraud also includes investment schemes, employment opportunities, businesses for sale, etc. The FBI has an internet fraud web-page with tips to help protect you against internet fraud.

  9. Reverse Mortgage Scams. Be very careful when considering a reverse mortgage. You will encounter many unscrupulous professionals in real estate, financial services, and related entities whose goal is to steal equity from the property of unsuspecting seniors.

    They offer their victims free homes, investment opportunities, and foreclosure or refinance assistance. Be suspicious of anyone who claims you can own a home with no down payment. Seek out your own reverse mortgage counselor. Do not sign anything that you do not fully understand.

  10. Work-at-Home Schemes. While some legitimate opportunities exist, one of the most prevalent rip-off scams is the offer to “work at home.” These scams require you to send money for software, equipment needed to perform the job, or information about starting a business from home. Many times, seniors who fall into this trap receive nothing. Their money simply disappears, and once it is gone, you cannot get it back.


The ten scams listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. government estimates more than eight hundred active scams across the nation, and many target the elderly. You do not have to be a victim. Use caution, and don't let greed overcome common sense. Remember…if it sounds too good to be true, it is.


Quick suggestions to avoid being taken in by the latest scam:


  • Don’t make a hasty decision.

  • Never give out personal information to verify an award

  • Don't let strangers in your house.

  • Check references.

  • Report suspicious solicitations to the police.


About the Writer: D. Ray Lewis is the director of the Free Will Baptist Board of Retirement and Insurance. Learn more about retirement options at





©2010 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists