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The Top Ten scams of which to be aware

Tips on avoiding scams

The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging offers these tips for avoiding scams.

Con artists force you to make decisions fast and may threaten you.

Con artists disguise their real numbers, using fake caller IDs.

Con artists sometimes pretend to be the government (e.g. IRS).

Con artists try to get you to provide them personal information like your Social Security number or account numbers.

Before giving out your credit card number or money, please ask a friend or family member about it.

Beware of offers of free travel.

— Information provided by the Senate Aging Committee

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Editor’s Note

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.

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Seniors are the targets of a variety of scams and fraudulent schemes. In its annual report on senior fraud for 2019, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging outlined the top 10 scams targeting older Americans in that year. Topping that list were Social Security scams.

According to the Senate Aging Committee, nearly $38 million was lost to criminals impersonating Social Security Administration officials or law enforcement agencies allegedly investigating Social Security related crimes. While there are a number of variations on this scheme, it was the crime most reported to the committee’s fraud hotline in 2019, and the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General reported receiving over 115,000 complaints concerning Social Security scams.

This deception plays on seniors’ fears of losing their Social Security benefits or leads them to believe that they face prosecution related to illegal activity with their Social Security number, and they are tricked into turning over personal information or money or both in order to comply with the supposed investigation.

Robocalls and unsolicited telephone calls have placed second on the committee’s list of most reported fraudulent schemes for two years in a row. These harassing calls often come from places outside the United States, using “spoofed” telephone numbers. This is a process which changes the number coming up on caller ID, masking the caller’s actual number and making it appear the call is coming from a local number.

Fraudulent sweepstakes are the third on the list of scams reported to the hotline. In these scams, fraudsters convince their victims they have won a contest such as the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes or an overseas lottery, many times in Jamaica, but in order to collect their winnings they must first pay for taxes or fees. Unfortunately, those who fall for this scheme make those payments but never see their prize money.

While romance scams have been around as long as human civilization itself, they have taken on a new dimension in the 21st Century when love can be found anywhere around world with just a few keystrokes or the click of a mouse. Criminals prowl dating apps or similar websites, claiming to be Americans living in another part if the world. After developing a relations ship, they tell their victims they need money to return to the U.S., or for medical bills or some other emergency.

Seniors are also often contacted by con artists posing as computer experts, claiming they are calling to warn the victim about a malicious threat to their home computer. In some cases, they will ask for passwords or account information in order to “help fix” the problem. Other times they will ask to take control of the victim’s machine remotely. Once inside, they access banking information or lock the victim’s computer, demanding a ransom to release it.

Fraudsters contacting older adults claiming to be a grandchild or other family member placed sixth on the list of scams reported to the hotline. The “grandchild” will call claiming to be in legal trouble and claiming they need money for bail. They then hand the phone off to an accomplice who claims to be with the police and verifies the “grandchild’s” story.

Similar to the Social Security scam, criminals posing as IRS employees often contact older Americans claiming they have unpaid taxes and must make a payment immediately to prevent further legal action and financial penalties. Once these payments are made, the victim is often contacted again at a later date with demands for more money to “pay down” the phony debt.

While this scam ranked seventh on the Senate committee’s list for 2019, it had been at the top of the list, the scam most frequently reported by seniors, in all previous years since the fraud hotline was established in 2013.

Identity theft can take a number of different forms, but it usually involves thieves trying to illegally obtain an older adult’s personal information, either by stealing physical items containing that information, such as a wallet or their mail, or by impersonating the victim or a family member online. The thief may also impersonate someone working for a charity or a government or law enforcement official claiming to need that information.

Once they have information such as the victim’s Social Security number or their bank account information in hand, the thieves are able to clean out the victim’s account, open credit cards in the victim’s name, or steal their government benefits.

Although a variety of debt scams were reported to the fraud hotline in 2019, most followed one of two main patterns. In the first of these, victims were told they needed to make an immediate payment to settle their existing credit card debt, while in the second, the fraudster claimed to offer debt consolidation services and claimed to need the victim’s personal information to complete the process. The information was then used for identity theft or to steal from the victim’s bank account.

Rounding out the top 10 list for 2019 was elder financial abuse, which includes reports of improper or illegal use of an older American’s finances, property or other assets, often by someone in close physical contact with that individual. In some cases, those taking advantage of the victim were strangers, but at other times, family members, themselves, were blamed for misusing their relative’s finances.

Claims of deceptive or fraudulent business practices were also commonly reported to hotline in 2019. In one of the most common types of this scam, criminals claiming to be contracts call or go door to door offering handyman services or to repair damaged homes following a natural disaster. They demand some or all of the payment up front, but never return to perform those services offered. In some instances, the work is started but never completed, leaving the victim’s home in disarray.

The Senate Aging Committee recommends older adults carefully read contracts before they sign and research companies before they hire them. Fraudulent business practices can be reported to the Better Business Bureau or the state attorney general. The number for the BBB of the Mahoning Valley is (330) 744-3111, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office can be reached at (614) 466-4986.

To report a suspected scam to the Senate Aging Committee’s fraud hotline, call 1-855-303-9470.

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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.

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