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A Guide To Fighting Fraud For Seniors

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Did you know that senior citizens are more likely to be the victim of fraud? There are a few reasons for this. One reason is that senior citizens hold 83% of the wealth in our country. That means they are more profitable targets. Another reason is that even the sharpest minds develop something called age-associated vulnerability as they age. It makes seniors more likely to give things away and trust people they shouldn’t. Seniors are also more readily available, answer their phones more often, and read more “junk” mail. 

Whether scammers use fraudulent sweepstakes prizes, free trips, or even very believable “Amazon” calls, they are often targeting seniors so it’s important to stay informed of the latest scams circling. 

Types Of Fraud

Scammers will typically use one of these four techniques:

  • Scarcity. The victim is identified by the caller as a winner of an extravagant prize. However, if the victim does not immediately accept the prize (and typically pay some type of charge, fee, shipping, etc.) the caller says they have to move on and offer it to the runner-up. 
  • Trust. If questioned, the tele-scammer will pass the phone to a “boss” to show the victim that the offer is “real.” 
  • Amazon shipment notifications that were not ordered. This one is relatively new and has been affecting thousands of people. This typically starts as an email that appears to be from Amazon. It is a shipment confirmation for a high-ticket item like a big-screen TV. The email has a customer service number for “Amazon” at the bottom, which people quickly dial to cancel this “accidental” order. Because they’re panicking about being charged upwards of $1,000 for an item they didn’t order, they don’t realize that the number they’re calling is not actually Amazon customer support. The “support specialist” will tell the victim that they’re so sorry for the confusion and that they will cancel the order immediately and refund their credit card. Then they will accidentally refund double the amount of the charge. They will act panicked like they will be fired from their job and beg the person to quickly purchase gift cards to enable them to correct their mistake without telling their boss. Once the gift cards are bought and emailed to the scammer, there is no way for people to get their money back and the scammer vanishes. 
  • Reaching out about something posted for sale. Whether you’re posting in the local newspaper or on Facebook marketplace, scammers will reach out, pretend they want to buy your item, then tell you they are out of town for business and have to send their shipper. They say they’re going to pay you over and above what the item costs via money order so that you can then pay the shipper. They will send a money order, your bank may deposit the funds into your account and it might appear as though it’s a real money order. In the 3 days it takes to post to your account, the scammer will tell you that you have to pay the shipper immediately. You will transfer money from your account to the shipper and then find out a few days later that the money order was no good. Obviously there is no “shipper” in this case and you’re out whatever amount you sent to the shipper. 

For the convenience of yourself or your loved ones, the NCPC has put together a short guide that features five ways to make unwanted callers go away. Print it out, laminate it, and keep it by each telephone for quick reference and as a reminder to always be vigilant. 

  • Tip #1: Never give personal information, such as bank accounts or social security numbers, to anyone over the phone, unless you initiated the call and know you’ve reached the right agency.
    Comeback:”I don’t give out personal information over the phone. I’ll contact the company directly.”
  • Tip #2: Don’t believe it if the caller tells you to send money to cover the “handling charge” or to pay taxes.
    Comeback:”I shouldn’t have to pay for something that’s free.”
  • Tip #3: “Limited time offers” shouldn’t require you to make a decision on the spot.
    Comeback:”I’ll think about it and call you back. What’s your number?”
  • Tip #4: Be suspicious of anyone who tells you not to discuss the offer with someone else.
    Comeback:”I’ll discuss it with my family and friends and get back to you.”
  • Tip #5: If you don’t understand all the verbal details, ask for it in writing.
    Comeback:”I can’t make a decision until I receive written information.”

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that these scammers are relentless and will likely continue to try to convince the victim to stay on the phone. It may be good to get in the habit of hanging up immediately after delivering the comeback line. 

Another way to safeguard yourself or your loved one from unwanted calls is to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. When these scammers call, you can tell them that you are on the National Do Not Call List and tell them to remove you from their list. 

If all else fails, you can obtain an unlisted phone number so these tele-scammers can’t find you. 

Non-Fraudulent Traps

It’s not only fraudulent scammers that have a tendency to take advantage of seniors. It is also legitimate charitable organizations. They often send solicitations in the mail for donations. 

Mailed donation solicitations come in all shapes and sizes and use a variety of tactics to pull at the wallets of seniors. These campaigns are typically highly-targeted to play on a person’s religious beliefs and/or political party. It can make seniors feel obligated to donate. 

Many times, these organizations charge a monthly recurring donation that the senior may not even be aware of because they thought it was just a one-time donation. 

Seniors can go thousands of dollars into credit card debt without realizing it just in donations to charitable organizations. 

Tips For Caregivers

If you are providing any level of care for a senior loved one, help them be vigilant by monitoring mail received, credit card statements, and reminding them to be wary online and when talking to strangers. Encourage them to take a class on fraud prevention and educate them to the best of your knowledge on how to spot a scam.

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