Elderly prime fraud targets
Thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition in recent years, we are living longer than ever before. But this increase in life expectancy also brings an increase in the number of diseases, injuries and impairments that affect older adults. With this in mind, we at the local Visiting Angels office in Salem have created this series of articles to keep our older population and their families informed and to offer some practical advice for meeting the challenges faced by seniors and those who care for them.
Every day, scammers and con artists are taking advantage of older Americans, stealing what adds up to billions of dollars each year through fraudulent schemes. These criminals prey on seniors’ trust and their weaknesses to rob them of savings accumulated over a lifetime, finances that cannot be easily replaced. And as the population of Americans 65 and older continues to grow, law enforcement expects the problem to get even worse.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), older adults are losing over $3 billion annually to these elder fraud schemes. Seniors tend to be more trusting and less suspicious of strangers, often answering calls from unknown telephone numbers and opening junk mail — two of the most common methods criminals use to establish contact with their victims.
Scammers may take advantage of the feelings of loneliness and isolation often experienced by many older adults to build ongoing relationships with their victims, allowing them to manipulate those seniors into thinking they care and granting the criminal access to a steady stream of ill-gotten income. Other times, thieves take advantage of the cognitive or memory issues that often accompany the aging process to exploit older adults who aren’t always able to gauge when a situation feels suspicious.
Seniors who have stepped into the digital age may also be opening the door to financial fraud if they are unfamiliar with the privacy and safety settings on the various digital media platforms they are using. Their computer’s anti-virus or security software may also be a mystery to them. Criminals take advantage of these mistakes to gain access to personal information which can then be used to access bank information or open lines of credit in the victim’s name.
Another reason that older adults are the targets of con artists is that they are often less likely to report that they have been the victims of these crimes. Many times, they simply don’t know how to go about reporting the crime, while at other times, they may be reluctant to let others know they have been victimized. They are either ashamed to admit they have been taken advantage of, or they are afraid their children will no longer trust them with their own finances.
And if older adults do report that they have been the victims of fraud, they may not always remember the details needed to help catch the criminals.
In its advice to seniors, the FBI says the first step anyone must take in protecting themselves against fraud to recognize a scam attempt when it happens. Sadly, if an opportunity seems to good to be true, it usually is, and fraudsters typically pressure their victims into handing over money or personal information quickly, before the victim has time to think about what’s happening.
The FBI suggests seniors immediately end communication with anyone they suspect may be illegitimate. Then they should call the police if they feel they have been threatened or their personal information has been compromised. An online search for any information obtained by the victim — things such as a business name, an address, a phone number or the details of the caller’s offer — can often reveal whether or not a call has been a scam and if others have been victimized in the same way.
The FBI warns seniors to be wary of unsolicited offers for services made over the phone, by mail, on the computer or in person, and items such as personal information, cash, checks, gift cards and jewelry should never be sent through the mail to any business or individual which has not been verified as legitimate and who they claim to be.
Seniors are advised to be sure anti-virus and security software programs and malware protection are installed on their computers and kept updated. They should be sure the software they’re using comes from a reputable company, and they should be suspicious of any pop-up offers or messages warning of threats detected against their computer while they are online. These pop-ups are often used by criminals to install malicious software onto computers.
Pop-up blockers can be enabled to protect computers and keep the user from accidentally clicking on them, but seniors are advised to disconnect from the internet and shut down their machines if a pop-up message occurs or their computer screen locks up. The FBI also wants seniors to be careful with downloads and to only open email attachments sent by someone they know. Seniors should also be suspicious of attachments in emails forwarded to them.
Anyone who suspects they are the victim of an online scam or identity theft should immediately contact their banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions to have holds placed on those accounts until it can be determined whether or not they have been compromised and so that other protections can be put into place. Many financial institutions have taken measure to protect assets and sensitive information before such crimes ever take place.
In addition to contacting local police departments, there are several ways seniors and their loved ones can report elder fraud or other suspicious activity. They can contact their local FBI field office at www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices or they can submit a tip online at https://tips.fbi.gov . The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging operates a fraud hotline for older Americans. That number is 1-855-303-9470.
The FBI says that when reporting a scam, victims should give as much information as they can, including any individual or company names the scammer may have used, the dates when contact was made and the method of contact used. Any telephone numbers, addresses, email addresses, websites or payment methods used by the scammer should also be reported.
Victims should also report where any wire transfer funds or prepaid gift cards were sent, including the names of financial institutions and account names and numbers. Any instructions given by the scammer should also be reported.
In two weeks we will take a look at the 10 types of scams most commonly reported to the Senate Aging Committee’s fraud hotline in 2019.
Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines in familiar surroundings. To set up an appointment for a no-obligation in-home consultation, call 330-332-1203.