Older adults are prime targets for fraud and scams for a variety of reasons. For example, they may be lonely and more willing to speak with strangers, have assets available after years of saving for retirement, and/or may have been taught since childhood to follow rules and perceived authority.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is recognized annually on June 15th, and is designed to focus attention on the extent of this issue, as well as efforts to prevent and combat the exploitation of older adults. The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging maintains a Fraud Hotline (1-855-303-9470) for the reporting of attempts or occurrences of exploitation. Locally, the PA Office of Attorney General (717-787-3391 or www.attorneygeneral.gov) is responsible for consumer protection.
Data from calls to the Fraud Hotline are utilized in part to compile an annual list of the Top 10 scams which target vulnerable people nationally. Educating older adults about how scammers operate can help individuals recognize suspicious situations and protect themselves. Here is a summary of the Top 10 Scams from 2018. For the full report (which includes steps taken to obtain justice), visit www.aging.senate.gov and click Resources and Fraud Book.
- IRS Impersonation: This scam has taken the top spot for the last 4 years. Callers accuse an individual of owing back taxes or penalties and demand immediate payment by certified check, credit card, electronic wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card. Threats of foreclosure, arrest, or deportation are utilized to create a feeling of urgency.
- Robocalls and Unsolicited Calls: Robocalls can be used to share a pre-recorded message or as a contact to a live person. Advances in technology allow scammers to appear to be calling from a legitimate telephone number, such as a local number or a nonprofit organization, which people will feel more comfortable answering.
- Sweepstakes/Jamaican Lottery Scam: These scams may be received by phone or mail. Individuals are “notified” that they have won, and must pay a fee for taxes/processing in order to collect their prize. Sometimes the scammer entices an individual to pay a fee to increase the chance of winning.
- Computer Tech Support: These scams have a higher success rate per attempt than other scams. Scammers may call and pretend to be from a well- recognized technology company (such as Microsoft or Apple) and offer fake security plans or claim that the individual’s computer has been infected with a virus. Sometimes a pop-up may appear on the computer screen which falsely reports a problem and provides the scammer’s phone number to call to “fix” it.
- Elder Financial Abuse: Most of the victims of this type of abuse are in their eighties, live alone, and require assistance with some of their activities of daily living. They can be taken advantage of by family members, home care workers, those who have financial responsibility for the individual’s affairs such as financial advisors or guardians, or strangers. Due to feelings of fear of reprisal, guilt, or shame by the older adult, authorities suspect that many cases of financial abuse go unreported.
- Grandparent Scam: This scam involves a caller who pretends to be a grandchild of the individual. The “grandchild” needs money to help him/her with an unexpected expense such as a hospital bill, car repair, or unplanned trip. The pretend grandchild may ask the grandparent not to call the parents. Another variation may be the caller pretending to be a police officer, lawyer, or physician who is helping a grandchild.
- Romance Scams: The popularity of online dating has contributed to the rise of these scams, which prey upon the loneliness and vulnerability of older adults. A cyber-relationship may develop through a chat room, dating site, social media, or email. The scammer eventually asks for money in order to travel to see the victim, to obtain a visa or other official documents (if the scammer claims to be from another country) or to obtain help for a sick relative. The scammer may claim the identity of an American soldier serving overseas in order to gain trust. In other cases, the scammer asks for a check to be cashed or a package to be forwarded; thereby involving the unsuspecting individual in money laundering or the shipping of stolen merchandise.
- Social Security: This scam is new to the list for 2018. An individual receives a telephone call or email from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration. The caller requests personal information in order to help complete a disability application, obtain a new Medicare card, or purchase medical equipment.
- Impending Lawsuit: This scam is also new to this top 10 list. The victim is “notified” that he/she failed to report for jury duty or owes back taxes and must pay a fine. If the fine is not paid, an arrest warrant will be issued or a lawsuit filed. Remember that scammers have the ability to make it appear that the call is coming from the local courthouse, sheriff, or police department. Callers may also use the U.S. government’s current anti-immigrant climate to prey upon those who fear deportation by telling them that there is a problem with their immigration paperwork.
- Identity Theft: The use of someone else’s personal information to empty bank accounts, place charges on credit cards, fraudulently bill Medicare or Medicaid, take out loans, or commit Social Security or tax fraud. If you suspect your identity has been stolen, you should call the company involved, place a fraud alert with one of the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) and request a credit report, notify the Federal Trade Commission, and file a report with the local police department.
The top 5 scams which are prevalent in Pennsylvania are the same as the top 5 national scams.
Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN