Vail Daily column: Seniors scams
Grandma Mary answers the phone “Grandma?” says a male voice. “Billy, is that you?” she says. “Yes, Grandma, it’s me, I’ve done something stupid and I need your help. I need $3,000 as soon as possible to make bail. Please don’t tell my parents. It’s just a big misunderstanding, I’ll explain everything later. Here, I’ll let you speak to the police officer, he will tell you where to send the money. Thanks, Grandma, I know I can count on you.”
Not too long ago, my wife’s family encountered such issues with a family member. While my father-in-law had been visiting a family member, he noticed that there was a tremendous amount of checks being written to various charity and sweepstakes-related organizations. When he inquired about the organizations and asked what the organizations did, he was met with ambiguous answers. After researching the names of the organizations, he found that many were felonious. Thousands and thousands of dollars were lost.
Scams against the elderly are excessive
According to the Consumer Law Center Inc., Americans lose an estimated $40 billion each year to the fraudulent sale of goods and services over the telephone.
Unfortunately, scams such as these are becoming increasingly common. The so called ‘grandparent’ scam ranks number six on the U.S. Senate Aging Committees top ten list of scams targeting seniors. Per the Committee, the top complaint, the focus of more than twice as many calls as any other scam, involved seniors receiving calls from fraudsters posing as agents of the Internal Revenue Service. These criminals falsely accuse seniors of owing back taxes and penalties in order to scam them.
As reported in an FBI article, seniors are targeted because they are more likely to be perceived as responsible, as having a nest egg and excellent credit. Seniors grew up in a time when it was customary to be trusting and polite. Con artists exploit these traits knowing it is hard for seniors to say no and hang up the phone. Con artists are aware that many of these crimes go unreported, making it an easy scam.
These crimes often go unreported because the senior fears retaliation, is unaware of how and where to report the crime, or may not be aware they have been a victim of fraud. Additionally, many seniors are embarrassed that they have been scammed and don’t want to admit it to their families for fear they will be thought incompetent and no longer able to manage their financial affairs. Seniors need to understand there is no reason to be embarrassed. These scammers are savvy con artists.
The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging has made consumer protection and fraud prevention a major focus of its work. The Fighting Fraud resource guide categorizes the 10 most common scams. The 48-page guide describes each of the top 10 frauds in detail, includes case studies to provide tangible examples of these scams, and provides advice from consumer protection agencies on ways to identify con artists’ schemes. The following are some examples of tips and advice offered in the guide.
So how do you protect a loved one from becoming victimized? Communication quite possibly may be the only proactive approach. All else may be reactionary and damage management.
Medicare and Social Security will not call you to ask for your bank information or Social Security number.
There will never be a fee charged to obtain a Social Security or Medicare card.
Never give out personal information over the phone.
Sensitive personal and financial documents should be kept secure at all times.
Review all medical bills to spot any services that you didn’t receive, and many more.
What to do if you suspect you have been a victim of identity fraud:
1. Call the companies where you know the fraud occurred.
2. Alert all the banks your loved ones have accounts at.
3. Place a fraud alert with a credit reporting agency and get your credit report from one of the three national credit bureaus.
4. Report identity theft to the FTC.
5. File a report with your local police department.
The committee launched a toll-free fraud hotline for easy reporting: 1-855-303-9470.
Fraud and identity theft are here to stay and as such, we must protect ourselves and family from this type of abuse. The best defense against senior scams is a strong offence.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, please go to http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.