Watching Out for Elder Scams and Fraud
Wednesday, 18 January 2012
As a general rule – no, I take that back. As a hard and fast rule, never, ever fall for anyone offering free anything.
A mid-2010 survey by Investor Protection Trust revealed that 7.3 million older Americans – 20 percent of citizens over the age of 65 – had been victimized by a swindle.
And, according to the National Consumers League [pdf], elders in particular are mercilessly targeted for frauds and scams. The top five scams reported to their fraud center in 2010 were:
Fake Checks (29.67%)
Internet - General Merchandise (27.24%)
Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts (20.49%)
Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers (2.44%)
Rounding out the top ten were timeshare resales, the Nigerian money offers, internet auctions, friendship and sweetheart swindles and scholarships/grants.
On the face of it, you would think everyone knows about the Nigerian email scam by now. After all, it's been going on for at least 15 years. But as new people take up computers, email and the internet – mostly elders coming to the party later than many of us – there are new marks every day.
The FBI keeps a special web section with good information about what kind of flimflams are common to elders and how to avoid them. The reason so many elders are targeted, they say, is that
• Elder are likely to have nest eggs, to own their homes and have good credit
• Elders are less likely to report being tricked out their money because they are ashamed or don't know how to or are afraid revealing the crime will lead relatives to believe they are no longer competent
• people who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are generally more trusting and polite so less likely to just hang up the phone.
The FBI's pages of fraud alerts and explanations are extensive covering, among many others, scams involving investments, health care and insurance, counterfeit drugs, telemarketing and internet fraud, anti-aging products and identity theft.
Like me, you are probably convinced that you are too sharp, too smart and too aware to fall victim to a scam. Maybe that's so and maybe it isn't. But you probably have older relatives and friends who could use some help in this regard and, too, young people – maybe your grandchildren – are almost as vulnerable to fraud as elders.
However much we may think we can spot anyone trying to cheat us, maybe it won't be as easy to do someday. I like to believe that if I educate myself now while my mind is still in good working order, I will be better armed if I slip a few cogs in the future.
Below are some of the best educational resources about the many forms of fraud, how to avoid them and how to report them if you or someone you know becomes a victim.
FBI Elder Fraud Alerts pages (see above)
Do No Call Registry
This can cut down the number of telemarketing calls you receive. You can sing up at this link or check that you are still registered correctly. Currently, there is an announcement at the top of the page that some scam artists asking for your information to sign you up for the service.
North American Securities Administrators Association
List of securities and insurance regulators for every U.S. state to file complaints plus a lot of educational material about financial fraud
National Consumer League Personal Finance Section
Good coverage of many fraud topics – see links in right sidebar
Identity Theft Resource Center
Pretty close to everything you will ever need to know about how to protect yourself from identity theft
Consumer Protection for Seniors from usa.gov
A thorough list of links to consumer information and help for elders from a variety of government agencies
If Republicans in Congress were not refusing to fund the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Elizabeth Warren fought so hard for, all this information could be in one place.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: A Woman Who Knows Where She is Going
Just this last week we were phished repeatedly. A condo unit two down is in foreclosure. Boy, have we been getting calls from everyone asking if it were us saying things like,"Since you are in foreclosure..." doesn't actually reassure. My husband and our bank both said we were being phished, but the calls stopped when I stopped in the bank.
Posted by: Mage B | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 06:56 AM
My husband bought a French cd course from Pimsleur for 10.00 and after that arrived, we were shipped a box of cd's saying we were signed up for their course and would be billed every month for 49.95.
It is in small print that you are automatically enrolled in their expensive course when you buy the cheap sample. I returned it immediately with tracking and emailed them to not even dare to charge my card. They did cancel it right away but it is deceptive.
Posted by: Zuleme | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 07:26 AM
The criminals are becoming more and more slick and sophisticated in the ways they attempt to separate us from our money, our private information, and our identities.
They use fear, promises of something that's really too good to be true, or heaven only knows what other kinds of tactics to entice us to deliver what they want from us.
Every one of us, no matter how aware we think we are, is susceptible.
"Just say NO" and "Just don't click" are more important now than ever.
And if we think we've fallen prey to something, don't feel ashamed, report it, get help, don't ignore it.
Posted by: SuzyR | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 08:35 AM
Delete EVERYTHING received from a source NOT familiar to you. DO NOT OPEN THOSE MESSAGES. NOT EVER!
To avoid unwanted phone calls use a prepaid/no contract phone.
My fone is a TracFone....It is
on ONLY when I make a call. Be vigilant! When in doubt... DON'T!!!!
Works for me!
Posted by: Elizabeth Evelyn | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 08:47 AM
I think an especially disturbing ruse is happening that preys on elders in our area (Northeast US). A call comes from a person claiming to be the elder's grandson/granddaughter. The caller is in jeopardy somehow - out of the country and in custody of the law or in jail - and needs money wired to post bail or pay for a hotel room or a new passport.
If the elder is confused or unaccustomed to fraud of this type, he or she might fall for the scheme.
Our local paper's Police and Fire Reports detail specifics of this scam about twice a year.
How many times does it actually work and the elder doesn't realize they've been cheated until they call to check on the relative's condition?
I don't know what category this falls in. Maybe phishing?
Posted by: EasyDiverChris | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 08:55 AM
I would also suggest subscribing to Scambusters, a fee Newsletter by real pro's in identifying scams, where new ones are highlighted each week, and all suspicious ones can be tested.
AARP also maintains a fraud and scam data base on their web site AARP.org
Posted by: Ken Pyburn | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 10:12 AM
Even when you think you are vigilant you can be attacked fraudulently. I once was charged by a cable company for a bill I knew was not mine. I had not done business with that company for 9 months and protested the charge to my credit card company. It took me weeks of stress and complaints to finally get the charge off my credit card.
I think the person who used my card must have been a waiter or waitress who took my card from the table and returned it to me there. No one else had access to my card number when I was not able to see them.
I am very nervous now when I give my card to my server.
Posted by: Darlene | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 10:45 AM
Thanks Ronni for useful information
Posted by: Chancy | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 12:58 PM
I received a notice of a class-action settlement against a broker recently. All I had to do was send in a voucher to claim my share of the award. But the voucher required that I include the account number. I don't think I'll send the vouchers in even if the notice is legitimate since the amount of the "award" is less than $10 and I really don't care to share my account number with strangers. Whether it is or not, it sounds like a scam.
Posted by: Carol from CO | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 03:20 PM
Some scams we've read about. One, you get into your car, notice a flier on the back window.
You need to remove it to back out of your parking space, so you get out of the car, and as you do so, the thief reaches into your car and grabs your purse, laptop or whatever is on the seat.
You're walking in a mall. A couple people walk up to you. They're holding a map. They ask politely for directions.
You scrutinize the map. While one thief keeps you occupied, the other reaches into your bag and steals your wallet.
You're gardening. A sales person walks up to you, says your driveway needs sealing. Hard pressure.
You say "I never buy anything from my driveway or front door."
Someone bumps the back of your car.
You get out to survey damage.
The accomplice reaches in, grabs laptop, purse, whatever.
Or grabs you and forces you to ATM machine.
You go out for dinner and leave your purse on the back of the chair.
Best bag is one with a shoulder strap across chest.
Use your remote car door opener as an alarm. If you hear someone trying to break into hour home, press the alarm/car finder button.
Thieves don't like alarms.
Get a sign that says "Beware of dog."
(Who says you have to have a dog to have the sign?)
Posted by: doctafill | Wednesday, 18 January 2012 at 04:10 PM
Thanks for posting this. It always troubles me to hear stories of less tech-savvy, usually older folks being taken advantage of.
Posted by: Boomzaa | Friday, 20 January 2012 at 05:29 PM