Fraud and scams against the elderly and disabled have existed for centuries. Scam artists typically identify these groups because they view them as easy to bilk out of their savings. In this era of high tech, fraud has become even easier. In this post, I’ll cover some of the more popular scams, as well as ways to prevent them from happening to you.
Many disabled and senior citizens rely on Medicare for their healthcare coverage. Many perpetrators may represent themselves as a Medicare representative in order to collect your personal information. Predators may also contact you under the guise that they are updating their records for Social Security, that you’re somehow in violation and in danger of losing your benefits, or under the guise that your social security number has been flagged for fraud. If you get a call from the IRS, they usually tell you you’ve committed fraud and owe back taxes. These are known as phishing schemes.
Whatever the tactic, you’re speaking with someone hoping to scam you into giving them your financial details, social security number or log ins and passwords for these organizations. It’s the policy of government institutions like the IRS, Medicare and Social Security never to contact citizens via phone, especially when informing them of any official change in status. Social Security, Medicare, the IRS and other government agencies notify citizens of problems strictly through US mail or, if you’ve signed up and agreed to certain terms, you may receive your notifications via email.
When you receive a call like this, simply HANG UP. If you’re worried that the call might be valid, simply let them know you will call your local office to verify the information they gave you and terminate the call.
Seniors, the disabled and other housebound individuals tend to purchase more over the phone or internet than on average. Telemarketers and scam artists know this, and often use a strategy of offering phony goods or services in order to obtain your financial information. Telemarketing fraud is hard to track since there is no face to face interaction, as well as no paper trail.
It is by far one of the easiest ways to prey on those who would otherwise feel comfortable making a purchase over the phone. Some con artist will offer too good to be true get rich quick schemes, for only a small investment on your part. Other methods include charity scams, or someone claiming to call on behalf of a relative who is ostensibly in some sort of difficult straits and in need of your financial help.
If a company is legitimate, they won’t mind your desire to verify the terms and validity of their offer. If they aren’t forthcoming with details about their company, such as offering a website address and phone number you can call, walk away. There are a million places to get what you need with little to no risk to you.
For many the internet has become the best thing since canned beer. To those who are elderly or disabled, purchasing good on the internet may be necessary. You can buy anything over the internet, including your groceries. Many who are home bound depend on the web for shopping, paying bills and banking, as well as social interaction.
As a result, internet fraud has become quite possibly the easiest and most popular way to rob you. Information can be stolen through automated internet scans that can invade your email, or through pop-ups that will scare you into thinking that you need to purchase fake anti-viral software. Even worse, viruses that are designed to steal personal information can be accidentally downloaded to your computer through these pop-ups or fake links sent to you.
A good example of this would be that Nigerian prince who keeps emailing you to send him money so that he can come visit you and shower you with riches and affection. Once you send that money, not only does Prince Obiwankenobi have some of your money, he also has your financial information in order to go back for more.
As a former money services associate, I encountered these schemes all the time. Many seniors, as well as others of all ages and walks of life, would come to me to wire money to some pretty strange locations. Part of my job was to try to intuit when someone was being scammed and gently question the customer as to why they were sending large amounts of money to seemingly random places. Luckily, I was able to identify many cases of fraud, and for the most part help some people hold on to their hard earned money.
Ways to Protect Yourself
While combating fraud can seem like a daunting task, it can be done. Here are some red flags to look out for:
Take Advantage Now!!!
Phrases that denote urgency are usually good indicators that something isn’t right. If someone is telling you to “act now” or “there’s no time,” you should definitely take a pause to think before you act. Slowing things down and taking time to think it through will often save you from financial heart ache.
You Want My What?
Never, ever give out personal information over the phone. This is probably one of the simplest ways to steal. I won’t even verify my name over the phone to a stranger, let alone give them my social security number, or whatever else they ask for.
Don’t Touch That Link, You Don’t Know Where it’s Been
Never click on a link that’s been emailed or texted to you by a stranger or unknown organization that you didn’t request information from. These links are designed to steal login information when you do click. Open up a web browser and type in the address yourself. Make sure you delete any emails or texts that contain strange links.
My Password is 1234
Never use a simple password. While they’re easy to remember, they are easy to crack as well. A hacker can figure out your birth date just as easy as you can type it in to your log in. Furthermore, use multiple passwords. If every website with a log in has the same password, imagine how much joy a hacker would jump for, with access to all your accounts.
When in Doubt Consult Someone You Trust
Scammers count on you to be too emotional to think clearly. If you have doubts, talk to someone you trust, such as a relative or an attorney. Before making a rash decision, get a second opinion. Remember if it seems shady or too good to be true, chances are really good that it is.
If You Think You Are the Victim of a Scam
Please report it as soon as possible. It’s not just you these thieves are scamming: There are thousands more just like you who are also victims. The worst action you could take is no action. Here are some available resources you can turn to in cases of suspected fraud:
- The Elder Justice Initiative
- Stopfraud.gov: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force
- United States Senate Special Committee on Aging Fraud Hotline. https://www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline or call 1-855-303-9470
- Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline at (800) 269-0271.
Furthermore, if you are a victim of fraud, keep in mind that all of your personal information has most likely been compromised. Contact your bank, your credit card companies, any financial institution that you frequent. Replace all of your log-ins with new ones. Remove any credit cards that you may have stored online (for example Apple Pay, or Google Pay).
Fraud is a disgusting, invasive experience that not only robs you of your finances and identity; it will also rob you of your feelings of personal trust and security. It may even rob you of your dignity. Please do not be embarrassed. This is how these scumbags make their living. They have likely bilked thousands of people, and will rob thousands more. Make sure that you take every precaution to protect yourself, and if the unthinkable happens, please speak up. You may have just the tip authorities need to shut them down and you could save thousands from experiencing the same ordeal.