Seniors: Keep an Eye on Fraud and Email Scams

A phone call out of the blue from an extended family member in need of money because they're stranded or just got in an accident. An email message promising a lump sum of cash. A telemarketer from an unknown charity calling to ask for a donation. A smooth-talking investor who claims to have a fool-proof way to ensure a financially worry-free retirement. These are just a few examples of real scams by hard-to-catch criminals preying on senior citizens.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That's good advice that's been around a long time. And you should keep that in mind any time someone asks you for money, personal information, or promises you a windfall of money or life-changing investment. Seniors over the age of 60 are scammed out of an estimated $2.9 billion a year, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Follow these five tips to avoid being a victim of a scam:

1. Protect your mail. Have your mail sent to a post office box, or get a locking mailbox installed if your mailed is delivered at home. If you regularly receive checks in the mail, arrange for direct deposit to have those funds sent directly to your bank account.

2. Add your name to the Do Not Call Registry. You'll significantly reduce the amount of calls you get from telemarketers by adding your name to this created by the Federal Communications Commission. Call 888-382-1222 to register by phone, or go to www.donotcall.gov to register online.

3. Read the fine print. Anytime an offer for things like a sweepstakes lottery, vacation package, time share, membership program, or contest that says you won something, read the fine print before signing anything or handing over your credit card number.

4. Beware of Medicare fraud. Medicare fraud costs an estimated $60 million a year, and many of the scams involve seniors. If someone is trying to get you to enroll in a Medicare-approved program going door-to-door, or asking for personal income information and your bank account number, it's probably a scam. If you need help with Medicare, call 800-633-4227 or visit www.medicare.gov.

5. Ask lots of questions and never make a decision on the spot. Scammers want to scare you into giving up personal information. When you get a call that seems questionable, ask for a name and number to return the phone call. Try to find out how they got your number. Check with your bank, family members, credit card company, etc. to find out if their request is legitimate.

Being aware of scams and how to prevent them is the best way to protect yourself, your money, and your personal information.