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Senior Scams: How To Protect Your Loved One From Fraud

January 26, 2020

There are currently, over 50 million Americans age 65 or older.  Many are at home during the day and are prime targets for scammers and unscrupulous businesses who use the phone or internet to find their next victim.  According to the Senate Committee on Aging, adults over the age 65 lose over 2.9 Billion dollars to scams and fraud annually.  Studies suggest that 1 in 10 older adults has been a victim of financial scams or exploitation.  However, only 1 in 24 cases of financial exploitation in older adults is ever reported.

Anyone who has spent the day at home has most likely received multiple calls from solicitors and salespeople.  At best, these calls are annoying.  At worst, the calls come from professional thieves who seek to find ways to get your money or gain access to your personal information.  You do not have to have memory problems or compromised health to be a victim. Many intelligent, educated people have been fooled.  Despite media attempts to educate the public about these scams, they continue to happen.

Calls or emails promising winnings from contests you never entered, or inheritances from relatives you’ve never heard of should not be believed.  Even calls from relatives in urgent need of money to get them “out of jail” or to “keep the utilities on” are often made by impersonators who play on your generous nature.  You will never receive a legitimate call from the local Sheriff, the IRS or the court system demanding money or payment, and none of these organizations accept gift cards for payment.

E-mails can be just as deceiving. Scammers are adept at copying letterhead and logos, so don’t automatically assume that an email from your bank or local business is legitimate.   If the email looks like it is from a trusted source, send a separate email or call to investigate.  Never click on the links embedded in an email you receive.  These can lead you to fake websites and collect important information from you like account numbers and passwords.

It is important to be alert and skeptical anytime you receive a call or email.  Here are some things you can do to protect yourself.

Be Alert

  • Get caller ID. Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize but be aware that new technology allows scammers to “clone” phone numbers, so that it the call looks like it is coming from someone you know.   Even your own number can be cloned so it looks like the call is coming from your own phone.
  • Ask for written material.  Most legitimate organizations do not do business exclusively over the phone! Ask them to mail you information to review.  Do not provide contact information.  If they do not have your address, they are not legitimate.
  • No legitimate deal is urgent.  If the caller requires a credit card number or cash up-front or tells you the deal will expire if you don’t accept immediately – pass!
  • Get Confirmation!  If a family member calls with an emergency request for funds, ask personal questions to verify their identity. Scammers play on your emotions, don’t be fooled.
  • Do not open emails from a person or vendor who you don’t know.  Even if they have a catchy subject like, “Your order has been shipped,” or “Your prize is waiting.”  These could let vendors gain access to your contact information.  Never click on any link embedded in an unsolicited  email.

If you do get scammed, tell someone immediately. If you act quickly, it may be possible to get all or some of your money back.  Start with the local police.  This is essential if you want to make an insurance claim for stolen property.  Next call your bank and/or credit card companies.  They will advise you on whether your accounts can be frozen or if the accounts should be closed for your protection.  The AARP Fraud Watch Network also has a hotline available (877-908-3360) where volunteers can advise you on the next best steps, including which government agencies might be able to help.

Telling someone can be embarrassing but remember, even smart people are fooled by professional scammers.  If these scams did not work, they would not be so common.  This can truly happen to anyone and the only way to stop it is by reporting it so that these scammers can be put out of business!

About the Author:

Kathleen Houseweart, MBA is the former Manager of Geriatric Service at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and currently chairs the Sarasota Community Alliance Sub-‘Committee on Aging.


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