As parents, we talk to our children about safety all the time – don’t talk to strangers, look both ways before you cross the street, lock the door, in an emergency call 9-1-1. Children are small and vulnerable and we know it. But when is the last time you spoke to your parents or grandparents about their safety? You should know, there is a clear and present danger to the older generation involving Internet schemes and telephone fraud, and if you haven’t had a conversation with your loved ones, perhaps it’s time.
Financial fraud crimes are on the rise and are targeting seniors at an
alarming rate. According to the FBI, scams involving seniors are considered “the crime of the 21st century.” Scam artists have become more sophisticated, and thanks to the Internet and social networking sites, a criminal can uncover personal details about their targets, which makes the impersonations even more believable. Seniors are vulnerable because they are accessible, often have a significant amount of money in their bank accounts and they are not always as tech-savvy as we are.
One common and devious scam that is resurfacing since its origination in 2008 is an imposter scam known as the “Grandparent Scam” – a con that targets seniors and preys on their most reliable, vulnerable assets…their hearts. Scammers place a call pretending to be a loved one – usually a grandson or granddaughter. The caller tells the grandparent that they “messed up” and they are in trouble – usually claiming they have been arrested or injured, sometimes in another country. They say they are embarrassed and need money sent right away as they plead with the grandparent to not tell anyone – especially their parents. Next an arresting officer, lawyer or doctor gets on the line to further expand the fake story using psychological scare tactics to pull at the heartstrings of the grandparents. No matter what the story is, they always ask for money.
Law enforcement experts say older family members are easy targets if they are misled to believe that someone they love is in trouble. The last thing they’re thinking about is the financial aspect of the situation. As a result, financial losses can be substantial and usually cost the victims thousands of dollars. Sometimes the scam is carried out over several days and the story gets worse as the “need” for additional funds increases. The scammers ask for money to be sent via Western Union or MoneyGram because they can pick up the transfer as cash almost immediately and once picked up, there is no way for the victim to get it back.
You may think that it can’t happen to you or your family – your parents/grandparents would know better, right? But scammers are expert at pulling their target in on a psychological level, and once the victim is emotionally involved, they will do almost anything to help their loved one. Doug Shadel of AARP said, “We’ve had doctors and lawyers fall for this. It doesn’t matter what your educational level is because it triggers something emotional, and it causes you to act.” As one grandmother put it, “You are blinded by emotion. Totally blinded. You don’t think rationally in the moment…your family always comes first.”
Other senior scams to watch out for include (from the National Council on Aging):
- Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud
- Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
- Funeral & Cemetery Scams
- Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
- Tech Support Imposter
- Telemarketing (Pigeon Drop, Fake Accident Ploy, Charity Scam)
- Investment Schemes
- Government/IRS Imposters/Bill Collector
- Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams
- Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams
- Internet Fraud (Email/Phishing: asking for passwords or updated information)
Nearly 1 in 20 of older-age respondents report that they have been financially scammed or exploited at some point in their later lifetime adding up to a huge loss – nearly 3 billion dollars a year in the U.S. Unfortunately, only a fraction of these scams get reported to the authorities, often because victims are confused or too embarrassed to speak up. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellyn Lindsey states that “the effect on the victims is so great. It’s not simply the loss of the money. They feel gullible, and the have nightmares about it along with anxiety and depression.” Senior financial abuse is an intolerable crime and educating your loved ones about the risks they face may save them a terrible monetary loss. It is important that your parents and grandparents are aware of the appalling lengths criminals will go to scam and con them out of their money.