How Scammers Target and Abuse Disabled People

6 ways tricksters exploit disabled people and how you can stop them: Internet Scambusters #445

Targeting disabled people with scams and pretending to raise money for victims rate highly in the catalog of heartless crimes.

As we know, crooks don’t care about the distress they cause their victims and families and, in some cases, repeatedly target vulnerable individuals.

In this week’s issue we highlight the most common areas in which these callous criminals operate and provide pointers on how you can avoid them and help others to do the same.

Let’s get started…


How Scammers Target and Abuse Disabled People


Knowing that many disabled people may have special needs and vulnerabilities, scammers target them frequently.

They even pass themselves off as being disabled or as helping to raise money for physically and mentally handicapped people as a way of conning money from the general public.

People suffering from a mental disability, especially dementia, are especially at risk but others with sensory and mobility handicaps have also fallen victim in recent incidents.

Let’s look at some of the most common examples of scams and abuse relating to disabled people.

Internet Tricks Targeting the Disabled

The Internet has been a boon for deaf people who can find themselves isolated from other communication channels, like the phone and face-to-face contact.

But this increased online dependence has put them in the scammers’ sights.

Most recently, more than half of the 14,000 people tricked into parting with money for a phony high-return investment scheme were members of the deaf community, targeted via Facebook.

In another incident, a dating website specifically for deaf people has been heavily infiltrated by scammers posing as would-be partners who then ask victims for money to help them out.

Disabled people in general, but dementia sufferers (or at least their families) in particular, have also been victimized by crooks selling ineffective “wonder-drug” cures via websites and email spam.

Job Scams Aimed at Disabled People

Mobility-challenged disabled people spend more time in their homes than many others of us and find it more difficult to find work.

This makes them particularly vulnerable to work at home scams. So much so, that, last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a series of enforcement actions to shut down bogus job schemes aimed at the disabled and unemployed.

Mentally handicapped disabled people have also fallen victim to job scams.

In particular, individuals who live independently, and therefore without close monitoring, are vulnerable to deception.

In one case in New York, such individuals were offered supposed jobs for which they had to pay for training.

They were told to meet their “trainer” at a street location and pay in cash — signs that would alert many of us to a scam — and then given a bogus address to receive their training.

Want to learn more about work at home scams? Check out Top 10 Work At Home and Home Based Business Scams.

Disabled Victims of Door-to-Door Scams

An increasingly common crime has crooks visiting sheltered accommodation communities and individuals’ homes offering to sell items for disabled people, ranging from walking canes and special shoes to wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Sometimes, they offer cut-price deals for which they demand cash up front, and then they’re never seen again.

Other times, they use high-pressure sales techniques to sell genuine equipment at inflated prices.

In a variation of this scam, dubious contractors offer to carry out home modifications, usually for an inflated price and a poor quality job.

Dementia sufferers, who we mention in more detail below, also fall victim to these and other doorstep scams where their vulnerable reasoning skills are abused, forcing them into paying for non-existing items or overpaying for regular consumer products.

For more on doorstep scams, check out this earlier Scambusters report, Watch Out for These Doorstep Scam Artist Tricks.

Alert for Dementia Sufferers

The increasing number of individuals suffering from memory disorders and dementia makes them easy “marks” for crooks.

In addition to the scams we’ve already outlined, by far the most common con tricks involve advance fee schemes, especially phony lottery winnings where victims are repeatedly tricked into paying in advance to collect their money, which, of course, they never get.

Dementia sufferers have also been fooled into handing over confidential information used for identify theft, and into believing they owe someone a large debt, which they then pay.

Using the Disabled for Bogus Fund Raising

Because most of us have compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves, tricksters frequently pose either as disabled people or as raising funds for the disabled.

In particular, questionable disabled veterans’ and firefighters’ causes raise money, most of which (if not all) never reach the supposed beneficiaries.

Sometimes, these organizations operate within the law by disclosing in their small print that only a proportion, or “net funds,” are passed to the disabled.

In one famous recent case, the proportion passed on to the charitable causes was only 10% of funds raised. The rest went into the operators’ pockets.

In other cases, scammers prey on public sympathy by pretending to be disabled.

In some instances, they may even have certificated pets, ID cards and clothing that suggests they’re disabled, but all this paraphernalia can be bought on the Internet.

Get useful tips on dealing with charity fund raisers in these earlier Scambusters issues.

Charity Scams

Which Charities are Legitimate?

How to Avoid Scams Against The Disabled

If you know a disabled person, especially a dementia sufferer, it’s a public duty to look out for them and alert family or public authorities if you think they’re being scammed.

With family, in some cases, it’s necessary to get Power of Attorney to protect them. We wrote about this in an earlier issue, How Scam Charity Victims End Up on a Sucker List — And What You Can Do to Avoid This.

If you’re disabled yourself, be aware that con artists are constantly looking for ways to exploit any vulnerability, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant.

However, many of the safety measures you can take are common to every one of us — things like being skeptical (especially of high-return investment deals), never buying on impulse from someone at your front door (always get prices and bids from others), never paying to get supposed winnings, questionable job training or to help a date you don’t know, and always discussing supposed miracle cures with your healthcare professional.

If you want to support a charity, check their credentials with the Wise Giving Alliance — disabled people will thank you for it.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!