Posts by The Seniors Center Blog

As President of The Seniors Center, Dan Perrin has built a grassroots movement of over 450,000 senior citizens who educate the American public and influence policy makers on issues that effect the quality of life for Americas retired people. The Seniors Center concentrates on securing the Social Security Trust Fund where it has advocated for repayment of funds diverted from Social Security into the Federal Budget. The Seniors Center is based in Washington, DC.

Be on the lookout for COVID-19 stimulus scammers

At this point we can safely say there’s no limit to the situations these people will exploit to make a buck.

With the announcement and passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Safety Act (CARES) Act, it was only a matter of time before financial predators launched their newest attack on the public: tricking Americans waiting for their rebate checks out of their personal information.

While the CARES Act is a comprehensive stimulus package, the provision of most concern to the American public is that which issues every citizen a direct relief payment. In an effort to bring some measure of security to those affected by lay-offs, furloughs, and closures, the CARES Act directs the Treasury to issue all Americans with a Social Security number a $1,200 payment (the actual amount will vary depending on income and dependents).

In the chaos of this bill’s rapid-speed passage, a dizzying news cycle, and the general confusion of our new normal, a lot of people have no idea when or how these payments will be made. Those who have filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns understand their checks will be automatically issued by the IRS based on their last return.

But what about those who DON’T file tax returns? This group is largely—if not mostly—composed of seniors and retirees. These are people who don’t make enough income in a year to need to file tax returns.

By now we know this group will need to file some kind of abbreviated return for which they will receive a Form 1099 from the IRS. The Social Security Administration and IRS have been directed by the CARES Act to engage in a public outreach campaign to get this information and filing instructions to the general public.

Unfortunately, it takes time for federal agencies to really get public outreach programs going. And in that time scammers have proven yet again they are far faster than the federal government at reaching everyday citizens.

Pivoting from their usual Social Security racket, scammers are now using their tried-and-true SSA impersonation strategies on those waiting for their stimulus checks.

In just a matter of days scammers have already come up with half a dozen ways to use imminent stimulus payments to talk victims out of their identities:

  • Mailing fake stimulus checks (“Please go to X website or call Y number to confirm your identity and that you’ve received your payment.”)
  • Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for verification of personal details (“Please verify your identity so we can send you your check.”)
  • Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for credit card information (“You will need to pay a small processing fee so we can send you your payment.”)
  • Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for your Social Security number (“We will need your SSN so we can deposit your payment.”)

While the method of contact and the reasoning behind the contact will vary, the end goal will be the same in all cases: someone is trying to get your name, address, birth date, credit card information, or Social Security number in order to steal your identity.

This is the exact same scam as the Social Security Administration scam. The person who contacts you will most likely try to fraudulently impersonate an employee or representative of the SSA or IRS. In the case of calls, they may try to spoof a legitimate SSA office number. In the case of direct messages, emails, or mailers, they may use the actual logos and branding materials of the SSA or IRS to make you think the communication is legitimate.

However these scammers attempt to ensnare you in the coming weeks, we recommend that you follow our guidelines in sniffing out any Social Security benefit scammer to protect yourself:

  • Above all, know that these relief payments DO NOT REQUIRE ANY KIND OF PAYMENT ON YOUR PART. This is a service being done by the Treasury to Americans in need. Think about it: what kind of sense does it make to mail financial relief payments to people and ask for payment in order to receive them? It doesn’t. Do not fall for this nonsense.
  • The SSA and the IRS already knows who you are. They have your SSN. They have your name. They have your address. It’s the Social Security Administration for crying out loud—why would the SSA need you to verify your SSN?
  • Even if these agencies would need you to verify certain details, they have said time and time again that they will NOT contact you by phone, email, or direct message to ask for them. As it pertains to the SSA, it will only call you if you have previously scheduled a phone appointment with them. Federal agencies simply DO NOT do business this way—especially when it comes to passing extremely sensitive information back and forth.
  • Scammers rely on the timidity, openness, and trusting nature of their victims to pull these schemes off. No matter how intimidating, convincing, or aggressive these people may get, you never have to fork your information over blind. You have the right to verify who you are talking to before you give anyone your information. If there is any question in your mind whatsoever, hang up or ignore the mailer or digital contact and call the SSA or the IRS to confirm the validity of the contact. Don’t give anyone your bank or Social Security information without contacting these agencies directly.
  • Trust no websites any emails or direct messages may send you to. Trust no phone number a “Social Security representative” may call you from. These are widely and easily faked.

If you receive contact like this over the coming days, we strongly encourage you to help others by doing what you can to put a stop to these vultures.

The Treasury is directing Americans to use the FBI’s online complaint portal to report any communication you receive that you suspect is from a stimulus scammer.

The FTC has also set up a direct link to their scam complaint system for further reporting on COVID-19-related scams (this could also be used to report scams having to do with “miracle” cures and Coronavirus testing or medical equipment—sadly, these are also happening).

Please share these reporting resources with your friends and family. All financial predation is vile, but under our current circumstances, these scams are particularly disgusting. These scammers are taking advantage of those who, by no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times. They are spitting in the faces of hundreds of thousands of people who are sick or mourning the loss of loved ones, and millions more who are terrified they’ll end up in the same situation.

These scammers belong in jail. Report them.

Fun with Social Security scammers!

With all of the depressing things going on in the world, it’s always important to take some time out and enjoy the simple pleasures of life…

…like listening to a Social Security scammer get a big bitter taste of his own medicine.

Phone scams and the number of phone scam victims is rising every year.  Thanks in large part to the “Social Security suspension” scam, thieves are pocketing millions of dollars cold-calling victims and threatening them into forking over their Social Security numbers.

But as this scam slowly touches every landline and cell phone in the United States, people are learning to play defense and ask questions before handing out personal information.

…They’re also learning how much fun it can be to waste scammers’ time, make them angry, and post the results on YouTube to give the rest of us some laughs.

To be clear, we don’t recommend ANYONE attempt to provoke or play around with a phone scammer.  When it comes to your safety, the best option is to hang up the phone, block the number, and report the call to the proper authorities.

However, this being the season of joy and merriment, we’d be remiss NOT to take a few minutes and warm our spirits to the soothing sounds of a scammer being scammed.  And then getting really, really mad about it.

Okay, so maybe chuckling about someone else’s frustrations doesn’t exactly line up with the “reason for the season,” but, hey.   Given the amount of damage these people cause, we’re not going to feel too bad about it.

Enjoy the laughs!

Don’t let website spoofing ruin your holiday shopping

Thanksgiving is just a few days away.  While for many of us, the perfect way to wrap up that big meal is a long nap, there are just as many people who will jump on their computers and officially kick off the Christmas shopping marathon.

Things have certainly changed a lot in the past 30 years.  No longer do we bundle up and race to the shopping malls to jump on those One Day Only Black Friday doorbusters.  Now we can sit at our desks in our pajamas with a hot cup of coffee for several days scooping up deals on our Christmas shopping lists.

The internet has definitely changed the game of how most of us handle the holiday season.  But with the convenience of online Christmas shopping comes the pitfalls.  It is without a doubt the most lucrative time of year for scammers.

Scammers have always been hyperactive during the holiday season.  But with so many of us using the internet to do our shopping, taking advantage of unsuspecting shoppers has never been easier.  Anyone with a little web design talent can use a basic trap to scam thousands of dollars from those unable to tell the real from the fake.

What we’re talking about is called website spoofing.  It’s the practice of creating a dummy website—one that looks incredibly like a trusted and popular retail site—and using it to collect credit card and other personal information.

There are a number of ways you might encounter a spoofed website.  More often than not, it’ll be linked to you through a bogus email saying it’s from your bank, offering you a deal or prize from a reputable retailer, or pretending it’s a receipt, invoice, or some other critical communication from a trusted online portal.  However, you can run into a spoofed website simply by mistyping a real URL or finding it through a simple Google search.

Scammers go to great lengths to impersonate the website you’re actually looking for.  Everything from the logos, arrangement of elements on the page, font type and size, color scheme, and catchphrases will be as close to the real thing as possible.  On first glance, a good spoofed website will be almost indistinguishable from the legitimate site.

But there are almost always warning signs on the page if you know where to look:

website-spoofing

Amazon is a heavy-hitter in the Christmas shopping world.  Even outside of the holidays, many of us use Amazon to do our day-to-day shopping.  We wouldn’t think twice about receiving emails from the retail giant.

But take a look at that URL.  Amazonn.com?  That’s not correct.  This is a scammer hoping you won’t notice that you’re on a completely different web address.

spoof3

Here’s the login to Paypal, a secure payment service that many people use while making online purchases.

Except, not so fast.  This is another spoofed site.  In this example, many of the tabs and hyperlinks are nonfunctional.  There is also nothing indicating that the page is secure and protected—just a phony lock symbol on the page itself.

Telling the real from the fake is challenging, but it’s not impossible.  It just takes a few minutes of investigation and verification before you click links and enter your information.

Always verify that the URL is absolutely correct.  Hover over hyperlinks to display the URL to which the link leads and verify that these are safe pages.  Look for broken links, nonfunctioning links, and blatant errors.  Be sure the URL begins with “https.”

And in the case of the fake promotional emails that lead you to these sites, the old adage stands: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Social Security scam calls now the #1 way thieves prey on public, says the Federal Trade Commission

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans reported $17 million in losses to the Social Security phone scam in the first six months of 2019.

Since January, the FTC has received 73,000 consumer reportsrelated to threatening calls and voicemails telling consumers their Social Security benefits will be suspended or that their Social Security number has been linked to a criminal investigation.

The number of reports combined with the catastrophic financial loss make this Social Security scam the most damaging of 2019.  The FTC has dubbed the Social Security phone scam the “new IRS scam”of 2019.

If you’re unfamiliar with this scam, count yourself one of the lucky ones.  Nearly all of us have by this time received the garbled robocall telling us there’s legal action being taken against us and our Social Security number has been “suspended” or our benefits canceled.  Toward the end of the call, the robot voice directs the listener to immediately call an unfamiliar number in order to prevent prosecution or reinstate our benefits.

It usually sounds something like this:

The message you’ve received, however, is a lie.  And if you call the number to clear up the mess, you won’t reach any Social Security Administration or detective’s office.  It’s going to be a phone scammer likely working out of a call center full of people baiting victims the exact same way.

In order to release yourself from the investigation or reinstate your Social Security benefits, the person on the other end of the line—probably pretending to be a Social Security employee or someone working out of an investigator’s office—will ask for your name, Social Security number, personal identifying information, and bank details.

After the initial setup, this becomes the exact same phishing scam as all the others.  It is an attempt by a scammer to coax you to reveal personal information or to make payments to them over the phone on fraudulent grounds.

While it may be alarming to receive a call or voicemail saying your benefits are threatened or accusing you of being involved in a crime, do not be fooled.  The Social Security Administration will NOT suspend your Social Security number and will NOT call you to tell you that your benefits are stopped or that you are under investigation. Under no circumstances will any calls like this you receive be legitimate.  This is not how the Social Security Administration (or any government agency) handles official business.

Watch the video below for more advice from the Oregon Attorney General on how you can avoid falling victim to Social Security scammers.

Study reveals the sad, shocking truth about the true culprits behind senior financial abuse

This is Agent XXX from the Social Security Administration.  Your Social Security number has been linked to criminal activities…

I am XXX, a daughter to XXX of Libya.  I will offer you 20% of the total sum of $4.2 million for your assistance…

I’m from Medicare.  We’re sending out new Medicare cards and I need to confirm your billing information to keep your coverage active…

By now we are all sadly aware of the numerous tactics used by fraudsters to drain seniors’ life savings.  The situation is so bad, anyone with a cell phone is probably accustomed to receiving a handful of these phishing calls every week—and that’s to speak nothing of emails, texts, and mail attempts.

When we think about senior financial abuse, these tend to be the kinds of tactics that first come to mind: the stranger cold calls and the robot voicemails we encounter every day.

The reality of senior financial abuse, however, is far more vicious than any Nigerian prince or phony Social Security Administration employee.  As with many forms of abuse and exploitation, the stranger in the back alley is rarely the real predator.

A recent study by the Journal of Applied Gerontology analyzed the characteristics of 1,939 calls coming into the National Center on Elder Abuse resource line.   Among the shared characteristics of these reports was the source of the abuse.  Not a stranger or an unknown conman, but a known and trusted family member.

The study identified 309 calls (about 46.8% of the total calls studied) that accused a family member of senior abuse.  If this sample size is truly indicative of the whole, it suggests siblings, children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren are the most likely to exploit seniors.

And it’s not limited to strictly financial abuse.  Across all types of offenses (physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect), family members were always the most reported perpetrators.

It’s heartbreaking to think your own flesh and blood—someone totally trusted—would be the most likely to hurt you.  But as shocking as that seems, it’s not at all uncommon.

In fact, it’s true for all age groups and demographics: those closest to you will always be the most likely to take advantage of you.  Family members are the most intimately aware of a victim’s finances, belongings, lifestyle, and emotional state.  They have the victim’s trust and a level of access to a victim’s home and personal information a stranger would have to work to have.  

For scammers, there really is no better victim than a parent or grandparent.  Most people would never suspect a child or grandchild of something so hideous. And even if they did, who would ever want to contact the police and report a beloved family member?  Would you be able to put your child in jail?

Family member senior exploitation is rampant, but the last thing any senior should do is be scared of their families.  Though it’s estimated as much as 90% of elder abuse cases involve a family member, only one in 10 seniors will experience elder abuse. Most families will be the important and supportive social network seniors can depend on.

Nevertheless, these numbers are concerning enough that seniors need to be aware of how to protect themselves in the event of the unthinkable.

The Justice Department declares war on elder fraud in largest nationwide sweep ever

In 2018, the United States Justice Department launched a nationwide campaign against senior fraudsters–the largest such sweep in history.  Over 200 senior scammers–responsible for victimizing over a million Americans–have been identified and brought to justice.  Through their financial schemes alone, victims lost over half a billion dollars.

This year, the Justice Department’s sweeps were even more successful than last.  Over 260 defendants were charged with allegedly defrauding over two million Americans for over three quarters of a billion dollars.

Among other types of scams, the sweep focused specifically on identifying tech support scammers, consistently one of the most damaging scams targeting seniors.

In order to crack down on senior scammers, the Justice Department is a multi-prong attack, working with overseas governments to stop bogus foreign call centers, catching and stopping international “money mules,” and coordinating with the United States Postal Service to intercept payments sent to scammers.

In a press conference led by United States Attorney General William Barr, the Justice Department presents the results of their senior scam crack-down and explains how the government is fighting back against senior scammers.

Equifax breach settlement: check here to see if you’re eligible to file a claim

You probably recall Equifax’s massive scale data breach in 2017.  As many as 147 million Americans’ personal information, including their Social Security numbers, were exposed to cyber criminals and potential identity theft.

Following the breach, Equifax failed to alert consumers their data was vulnerable.  Breach victims had no idea their information was exposed for several months, so they didn’t know to take protective measures to prevent identity theft.

Two years later, the Federal Trade Commission has ordered Equifax to pay as much as a $700 million settlement to those affected by the data breach.

With 147 million Americans affected, YOU have most likely had your personal information exposed in the breach.

By visiting the official Equifax settlement claims website, you can check to confirm that you are one of those affected by the breach and quickly file a claim to be included in the settlement.

We suggest that if you’re affected, you file a claim right away and keep a close eye on your credit report for any suspicious activity in the future.

Old scam, new packaging: genetic testing scam offers free medical screening in exchange for your identity

Say what you will, but identity thieves are nothing if not creative.

But behind their ever-evolving scare tactics and too-good-to-be-true giveaways and opportunities hides the exact same scam: convince the victim to hand over their Social Security number and banking information.

The newest iteration of this con is making headlines across the country.  It’s occurring both by phone and in person, with scammers even having the audacity to make their pitches in local seniors centers.

It’s being called the “genetic testing” or “DNA testing” scam. Similar to the medical equipment offers we discussed last year, the genetic testing scam promises seniors Medicare-covered genetic screening to identify serious health risks.  

All you’d have to do is use their 100% free at-home DNA swab kit, package it up, and send it back to the agency along with your Medicare information, your personal information, your Social Security number, and your bank information.

…See where this is going?

The truth is this is nothing but fresh paint on a falling down house.  Preying on seniors and their health concerns, genetic testing scammers dangle the hope of preventing life-threatening illness over their victims’ heads with no intention of doing anything but stealing their identities.

This scam is springing up nationwide.  Seniors report both being contacted by phone and encountering these creeps collecting information in places seniors spend time. 

If you should also run into someone making a “free” genetic testing pitch to Medicare recipients, just follow these simple rules to avoid becoming their next victim:

  • As with all medication, medical equipment, and medical testing offers, you should only be discussing these things with your doctor.  Should you need anything of a medical nature, your trusted physician will be the one to order it or point you in the right direction.  Don’t trust anyone making you any medical offers that you or your doctor haven’t solicited.
  • DO NOT give ANYONE your Social Security number, banking information, or personal information except those that absolutely need it.  Especially if it is solicited by phone or by an unknown person or organization.
  • Protect those around you by reporting these calls and solicitations to the appropriate agency

If you receive one of these calls or are encountered by someone pitching a free genetic test to you, do not engage them.  These people are charismatic and extremely convincing.  Any attempt to argue or confront them could open a door for them to ensnare you in their scam.   Hang up the phone or walk away.  It’s not rude.  It’s not wrong.  You don’t owe any type of courtesy or conversation to someone trying to take advantage of you. 

Half of all calls to U.S. cell phones predicted to be spam in 2019

A few months ago, some team members at The Seniors Center attended a workshop inviting seniors to speak directly to Congressmen and representatives from several agencies specializing in seniors issues.

Although the workshop generally focused on federal economic policy, when opened for question-and-answer time, a large percentage of attendees’ questions had little to do with economic legislation.

Instead, they were about robocalls—specifically, what is the government planning on doing to stop the constant spam and scam calls seniors receive each day?

While Americans of all ages can attest to the frustrating increase of spam calling in the past few years, it is clear after listening to seniors themselves this is a major concern for older Americans in particular.  This is unsurprising given phone scammers often target vulnerable seniors, using tried-and-true techniques specifically designed to part retirees from their cash.  Seniors are often disproportionately affected by phone scams.

What attendees wanted to know is why the problem seems to be getting worse rather than better.   And why isn’t the federal government able (or willing) to do anything about a problem affecting every single American with a cell phone.

Data from First Union confirms the problem is indeed worsening.  They project by the end of this year, nearly half of all calls made to U.S. cell phones will be spam calls.

What we learned that day from the experts themselves is stopping the onslaught of bogus calls is much more complicated than it may seem.  Call “spoofing” combined with the fact that most of these calls originate internationally makes regulating these calls almost impossible.

While cell providers are doing what they can to identify and intercept these calls where they can, it seems for now, it’s up to cell users themselves to protect themselves.

The best thing seniors can do to defend themselves from scam callers is not give scammers the opportunity in the first place: never pick up or answer unknown calls—even if they come from a local area code.

Just picking up and answering one of these calls—even if you don’t give away any of your information—is enough to confirm to a scammer or robocaller that your number is valid and a human will pick up the phone.  This can result in a huge uptick in spam calls.

Allow unknown callers to go to voicemail.  Friends, family, and legitimate business callers will have no problem leaving a message should they really need to get in touch.

And under no circumstances give any unknown caller any of your personal information.  If you are unsure if a caller is legitimate or not, hang up and try to locate their place of business online.  If you can locate a contact number for the caller’s business online, call back using that number and ask if a representative there has called or needs to get in touch with you.

Senior scams contributing to suicide among older adults

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates among the elderly have increased by over 30% since 1999.

Some of the biggest increases in suicide rates have occurred in the Midwest and Northeast, in states like Kansas, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Vermont and New Hampshire.

While the CDC states there is no definitive cause for these increases, they have identified a pattern of stressors and life events that contribute heavily to many of these cases. Several of these stressors have to do with economic and housing instability, immediate crises, legal trouble, relationship problems, and health challenges.

These are problems that impact everyone, but the implications for seniors are often far greater than with other age groups.  Seniors are extremely vulnerable in all of these areas, and in many cases, they are far less likely to bounce back from a major emotional or financial blow.

These are exactly the types of blows scammers are delivering to seniors each and every day.

The same anxieties the CDC identifies as major factors in the growing amount of self-harm and suicide cases in the United States are the tools scammers use to hook and completely destroy their victims.

They create relationship stress with dating scams.  They create fake family crises with grandparent scams.  They threaten legal action with IRS tax scams.  They promise miracle cures and treatments through medical scams.  And ultimately, they drain the savings of the financially vulnerable and create very real economic hardship for people who do not have the means to replace what was lost.

In the end, the fear, anxiety, and guilt victims feel when they realize what has happened is sometimes too much to bear.  In some cases, the victims of senior scams are being driven to death.

The consequences of senior financial scams in reality are far more serious than stolen savings. When many seniors live in social isolation, struggle with illness and depression, and largely blame themselves for the actions of predators, we’re talking about a problem that is truly life-threatening.

And the problem is far from uniquely American.  Seniors all over the world are falling prey to scam calls and wire transfer scams.  In Japan, several seniors have killed themselves after being victimized by a scammer.

It is important to remember, both as a potential victim or someone who may one day witness someone get taken in by a scammer, that it is NEVER a victim’s fault when someone lies and steals from them. The ONLY one who has to answer for exploitation is the exploiter.

It is not your fault.

While reporting and regaining what was stolen may seem paramount, your first and immediate priority should always be assuring the health of the affected.  Senior scams leave victims feeling embarrassed, alone, unsafe, unstable, and guilty.

If you or someone you love is taken advantage of by a senior scammer, please consider counseling, visiting a primary care physician, or locating a senior support group in your area. Get to know the warning signs of suicide and depression, and take immediate treatment action if you recognize them.

If you are in immediate distress and need emotional support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org to chat with trained staff who CAN help you.