Mark’s daughter, Cindy, was distraught. She had just discovered that her father had received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and had given the caller his social security number, birth date, and bank account information. The caller had claimed the information was required in order for Mark to receive his coronavirus stimulus check. It was a scam: the IRS will never call, text, or email individuals to verify banking information for any kind of stimulus or refund check. Cindy asked for my assistance and we acted fast to notify the bank, close out the account, and set up an identity theft protection plan for Mark since his social security number had been compromised.
It’s an unfortunate reality that thousands of seniors are victims of fraudsters and scammers every year. Moreover, many victims don’t report the crime out of shame and embarrassment, and almost none get their money back. Besides cybercrime, seniors are also victimized in more old-fashioned ways: by telephone scams, people going door to door, and by mail. Seniors are also targeted by unscrupulous people who pretend to be their friend or love interest, but whose real intent is to drain the senior’s bank account.
While people of all ages fall victim to scams, seniors may be especially vulnerable. Loneliness and dementia can cause serious lapses in judgment, and con artists are good at developing a rapport that the senior wants to believe is genuine. Some of the most common scams are:
- “The grandparent scam”: a caller pretends to be a grandchild in trouble and claims to need money to be wired immediately because he/she is sick/jailed/stranded.
- Other telemarketing scams include callers stating you’ve won a trip or a sweepstakes but need to pay a fee to claim the prize, and fake or dubious charities requesting money.
- Thieves pretend to be from the gas or electric company and threaten to turn off service without an immediate payment.
- Door-to-door pitches for cheap home repairs or other services: Often the person asks for money up front and the repair is not finished, is never started, or the work is shoddily done.
Whether it’s a pitch by phone, online, or door-to-door, scammers are pros and can be very convincing. Here are some tips for seniors and their families to avoid becoming the next victim:
- Never reply to letters, emails, texts, or phone calls asking for personal or financial information.
- Don’t routinely carry your social security card or other sensitive information.
- Never allow strangers into your house. Report suspicious activity to the police.
- Never wire money to anyone you don’t know, especially online “friends.”
Families can help protect seniors against identity theft by ensuring their electronic devices are kept secure with up-to-date virus and firewall protection, and reviewing credit reports and monthly credit card and bank statements. One way to limit telemarketing calls and letters is to put the senior’s phone number on the National Do Not Call registry by phoning (888) 382-1222 or visiting www.donotcall.gov, as well as the Direct Marketing Association.