When people reach their senior years, they're eligible for some freebies, but not all freebies are legitimate. Fraudsters often use free items to hook seniors into scams. The adage, "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is," definitely applies. Programs that offer seniors free items are available, but verify that they're legitimate first.
Member organizations for seniors often provide lists of discounts available in exchange for simply showing their membership cards. The memberships may not be free -- most usually require a small annual fee -- but the benefits and free stuff a senior receives often offset the cost many times over. Some free stuff is available to seniors over the age of 50, but many organizations don't offer these advantages until the senior is 62 years of age. Don't be afraid to ask about free stuff -- not every company or organization advertises them.
Seniors can receive freebies such as:
- Free samples of senior products;
- Free checking accounts or checks from local banks;
- Free diet or health newsletters from reputable agencies and companies;
- A variety of travel freebies from membership organizations;
- Money to go back to college from foundations or organizations.
Local Government Agencies
The first place to check for free senior programs is with your local government agency or senior center. Most of these agencies offer multiple free programs for seniors. Local governments also often provide online lists of reputable and safe organizations to help seniors recognize the difference between legitimate programs and scams.
Seniors can often get free computer and Internet access at senior centers or libraries. They may be eligible for transportation services and much more. Sometimes, seniors can receive nutritious meals for free or at reduced cost.
Check with your local utility company to find out about free energy assessments, weatherstripping programs and more. Many utility companies will visit a senior's home to find ways to improve energy usage, and some even offer free assistance or reduced energy fees to disabled seniors using oxygen or medical equipment at home.
Check with the Internal Revenue Service about its free program -- called the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program -- that helps seniors prepare their annual taxes. Visit the IRS website to find volunteers near you who can help seniors prepare their returns.
Home Financing and Foreclosure Counseling
Some seniors may qualify for grants or reduced loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development based on specific income requirements. HUD also offers free counseling services for seniors facing foreclosure. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers 100-percent financing on rural homes for seniors who qualify.
Avoid Scam Artists
The biggest threat to seniors is being taken in by a scam artist. Scam artists typically prey on the vulnerable or those unaware of their tactics, and seniors are often susceptible to them. Scammers usually pose as someone from a reputable agency or a company. Seniors can take steps to protect themselves by following some simple guidelines.
- Never provide bank, credit card or Social Security information to someone who contacts you directly. They are more than likely illegitimate unless you called them first.
- Don't sign blank insurance documents or forms of any kind.
- Don't be taken in by telemarketers. A caller who offers a free gift, then asks for personal bank information, you Social Security number or credit card information is usually a scammer.
- Check with local government agencies if anyone contacts you with an offer of something free. Don't pay money for "free" prizes -- these are usually scams.
- Visit the FBI's Internet Fraud site if you have questions about an online site that offers you something for free.