Watch Out - Scams Ahead!

Don't Let Them Get YOU!

No doubt about it! Maintaining a healthy life style, having a purpose, and continually assessing habits, beliefs, and perceptions are key to aging well. Yet, there is more to do - like protecting your money from people who want to take it dishonestly. 

According to a recent FBI report

Senior citizens lost almost $1 billion in scams in 2020. 105,301 people over the age of 65 were scammed, with an average loss of $9,175, and almost 2,000 older Americans lost more than $100,000.

Swindlers prey on the elderly for various reasons such as having money, being lonely and trusting, and experiencing memory or other health problems. My husband was a good example. He had dementia and his phone was his prized possession.

No matter how often we warned him, he continually gave out personal information and agreed to unneeded services. I had to block phone numbers, monitor calls, and delete contact information. I also had to change the passwords on all of our financial accounts because he unwisely sold stock. He was an easy mark.

SCAMS

A scam is a dishonest scheme: a fraud or a swindle. People who carry out these dishonest ventures are called scammers. They use deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information for fraudulent purposes. There are numerous elder fraud schemes. Let’s review several of them.

Romance Scams

 Romance scammers pose as an interested romantic partner on social media, like Face Book, or dating websites, like Silver Singles, to capitalize on a person’s desire for companionship and love. This scam is discussed in a previous newsletter.

Tech Support Scams

 Tech support scammers offer to fix non-existent computer issues. They prey on people’s lack of computer and cybersecurity knowledge to gain remote access to their devices and sensitive information.

Typically, a message or blank screen appears on the victim’s computer or phone saying the device has a problem that needs to be fixed. When he or she calls the support number for help, the fake technician may request remote access to the computer or ask for a payment to repair it. Watch this YouTube video to better understand the process.

Internet and Email Scams

 Using the Internet takes skill. However, many older folks are easy targets because they don’t understand the system and can be easily taken advantage of. Phony virus-scanning software fool naïve victims into downloading a fake, expensive anti-virus program or an actual virus that opens information on the computer.

Unfamiliarity with firewalls and built-in virus protection make seniors more susceptible to such traps. I unintentionally accessed questionable websites a couple of times, but the virus protection program on my computer saved me. 

Experts offer tips to protect you. We will touch on four good reminders. The first tip is to use secured wireless networks when completing financial transactions and know that all personal information shared online can be used against you. Keeping devices current and having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defense against potential online threats.

A second tip is to use strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Use different passwords - even though it’s a nuisance. If you use the same one every time and scammers figure it out – they have easy access to all of your accounts and information.

A third tip is be cautious about information you send when connecting to public WI-Fi networks, like at MacDonald’s or a coffee shop. They are not secure.

Finally, before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you check out, verify that the web address begins with “HTTPS.” – the “S” stands for “secure.”

Phishing Scams

Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails ALLEGEDLY from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information.

Scammers use fraudulent emails and websites to trick you into disclosing private account or login information. Their goal is to acquire valuable personal and financial data like your Social Security number, credit card details or passwords to online accounts. The goal: steal your identity and your money.

Phishing is typically associated with email but can come in other forms such as social media, messages, ads, “vishing” (voice phishing by phone), “smishing” (phishing by text message) and “pharming” (drawing victims to bogus websites). Beware!

Experts suggest several safety measures such as not clicking on links or open attachments from unfamiliar sources, keeping privacy settings private and avoiding posting personal information such as birthdays, addresses, and mother’s maiden name.

They also advice you to be wary of requests to connect with people you don’t know. I was duped by a “phisher” regarding my PayPal Account; fortunately, no damage was done. It was a good warning, though, and I learned to block unwanted numbers.

Grandparent Scams

These swindlers pose as a relative—typically a grandchild—claiming to need immediate financial help. They call an older person and say something like “Hi Grandma or Grandpa, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of a grandchild, the scammer has established a fake identity without having to do any research. Listen to one grandmother’s story:  

Ways to protect yourself include never offering information to the caller, asking the caller for details and personal information that a true grandchild would know but an imposter would not. Then take the time to verify the story by calling his or her parents or other relatives before sending money.

Government Impersonation Scams

Government fraudsters pose as employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments. They may call you and pretend to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration, or Medicare. They trick you by saying you have unpaid taxes and threaten arrest or deportation if you don’t pay immediately or that your Social Security and Medicare benefits are in danger of being cut off if you don’t provide identifying information.

Sweepstakes/Charity/Lottery Scams

Sweepstakes or lottery fraudsters claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain a victim’s trust. They claim that intended victims have won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, for which a “fee” must be collected. This fraud capitalizes on the notion that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” 

The scammer informs people they have won a lottery or sweepstakes and need to make a payment to unlock the prize. Victims are often sent a check to deposit in their bank account. The check shows up immediately, but is rejected a few days later.

In 2014, former FBI director, William Webster, was a target of the Jamaican Lottery scam, but he foiled the attempt. Take a look.

Charity frauds rely on seniors’ goodwill to pocket money they claim they’re raising for a good cause - one with a name similar to a legitimate charity. They often capitalize on current events, such as natural disasters or personal tragedies, and may set up a fundraising page on a crowdsourcing site such as Go Fund Me.

Family/Caregiver Scam

 Family/caregiver racquets usually involve theft or abuse, and targets vulnerable older adults. Three common types of abuse are financial, physical, and neglect. Often the deception is carried out by someone a senior knows such as a family member, friend, attorney, or caregiver. Abuse even occurs in care facilities, as you can see.

According to the National Council on Aging

Approximately one in 10 Americans age 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as five million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only one in 24 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.

Medicare/Health Insurance Scams

Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, so perpetrators pose as Medicare representatives to get older folks to give them their personal information or they provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then bill Medicare and pocket the money.

A related scam is discussed by AARP (American Association of Retired People) in the article Beware of Robocalls, Texts and Emails Promising COVID-19 Cures or Stimulus Payments. You can read more by clicking here.

PROTECTING YOURSELF

We clearly identified the crime’s tentacles, now let’s look at solutions. To name a few:

  • Learn to recognize scams and end all communication with an offender.

  • Search online for contact information and the proposed offer. Others may have posted information about individuals and businesses using the same fraud.

  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. That is how I was tripped up. The email said a charge had been posted to my account and I had to accept or deny it.

  • Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, and mailings. All my unsolicited phone calls go to voice mail and all junk email is deleted.

  • Never give or send personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses.

  • Make sure computer anti-viruses, security software, and malware protection are up dated.

  • Be careful what you download. It’s unwise to open an email attachment from someone you don't know and be wary of forwarded email attachments.

  • If a scammer gains access to your device or account, immediately contact your financial institutions to place protections on your accounts, and monitor your accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.

WHAT TO DO IF

The Federal Trade Commission offers great suggestions about what to do if you think you’ve been tricked. Click here to read more.

So, you’ll want to be know about common scams, be prepared, and don’t let yourself be a victim. This is yet another tool for your Aging Well tool kit.