It is estimated that 5 million older Americans are financially exploited each year in the United States and lose a combined $2.9 billion dollars annually. Scammers go after older adults because they believe they have a significant amount of money in the bank. Financial scams often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute so they are considered a “low-risk” crime. However, they can be devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a vulnerable position with little time to recoup their losses.
Robocalls use phone technology to dial large numbers of households from anywhere in the world. Robocallers use tactics to cheat their victims such as the false claim that a warranty is expiring on a car and payment is needed to renew it. Another popular robocall is the “Can you hear me?” call, where when the older adult says “yes”, the scammer hangs up after recording their voice. This voice recording is used as a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges on items.
In a computer tech scam, an individual, while searching the internet, may suddenly get a pop-up window on their computer screen describing a security threat and instructing them to contact a tech support agent. Sometimes, scammers have used the pop-up window to hack into a victim’s computers, lock them out and force the victim to pay a ransom to regain control of their computer. Scammers use malware or spyware to infect victims’ computers with a virus or encrypt the computers so they cannot be used until a fee is paid. If victims refuse to pay, scammers will render the computer useless, sometimes prompting a blue screen that can only be removed with a password known by the scammers.
Phishing emails and text messages may look like they are from a company you know such as a bank, credit card company, or online store. Phishing emails request your personal information such as log-in information or a Social Security Number to “verify” your account. Then the scammer uses that information to steal your personal and financial information.
Government impersonators call unsuspecting victims and pretend to be from a Federal Agency like the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They may say they need your Social Security Number to access your account or that you have unpaid taxes that are due immediately. Government impersonators can “spoof” the actual phone number of the government agency, so the caller ID reads the name of the agency.
This is an old scam that still exists today. Scammers inform an individual that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make a payment to “unlock” the supposed prize. Older adults will be sent a check that they deposit into their account, knowing that while it shows up immediately in their account, a few days later it is rejected. Scammers will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize. Scammers will also ask people to send money via money order, wire, bank card, etc. to claim the prize and cover processing fees.
Scammers will place a call to an older adult and say something along the lines of “Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is? When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity with having done minimal research. Once this is established, the fake grandchild will ask for money to solve a problem (overdue rent, car payment, etc) and will ask the grandparent for a money transfer or gift cards. Scammers ask to be paid via money transfer and gift cards because they do not require identification to be collected and the victim has no way of seeing that money ever again.
Senior Medicare Patrol: Preventing Medicare Fraud 877-808-2468
Better Business Bureau 410-347-3990
National Do Not Call Registry 1-888-382-1222
Federal Trade Commission 1-877-382-4357
Medicare Fraud Hotline 1-800-633-4227 TTY: 877-486-2048
Social Security Administration: Office of Inspector General 1-800-269-0271
Maryland Attorney General 410-576-6300
Call one of the three national credit bureaus to place a fraud alert.
Equifax 1-800-685-1111 (Fraud Hotline: 1-888-766-0008)
Experian 1-888-397-3742 (Fraud Hotline: 1-888-397-3742)
TransUnion 1-800-916-8800 (Fraud Hotline: 1-800-680-7289)