The tactics used to scam seniors are becoming more and more creative. But, luckily, law enforcement is catching up to these criminals. Recently, three scam artists who posed as family members in need of money were caught and will be sentenced in October. These scammers made phone calls to their victims, preying on their fears by saying they were in danger or in jail. Then, they would ask the seniors to gather cash before sending a courier to collect it.
According to the Department of Justice, these scam artists were able to steal more than $350,000 from fourteen Rhode Island seniors. But now that they’ve been caught, these seniors can sleep a little easier knowing that these criminals are behind bars.
If you’re ever in doubt about a phone call from a family member, hang up and call them back at a number you know to be safe. You can also ask a friend or neighbor to come over so you’re not alone while you verify the story. And, of course, never give out personal information or money to someone you don’t know.
Scam calls come in many forms. Scammers might pretend to be a loved one or acquaintance, might use the ruse of an emergency, or might act as a government employee to gain the trust of their marks. One scam that is on the rise in recent months is actually a spin on an older con: acting as a Social Security employee.
How to Spot This Social Security Scam
How does this scam work? The con artists tell their potential victims that someone is trying to open bank accounts in their name. In order to stop this from happening, they’ll say, the victim needs to download an app on their phones. This app will allow the supposed Social Security or IRS employee to remotely access their phone.
By remotely accessing the phone, the scammer can access passwords and accounts. They might ask their victim to transfer money into a different account. According to NBC 2 News, one Florida woman had the scammer ask her to transfer money into Bitcoin—luckily, a fraud alert came up before she was able to complete the transaction.
It’s important for seniors to be aware of the many scams that exist. Unfortunately, scammers often target seniors because they may be seen as more vulnerable. These scams against seniors can take many forms, from email and phone scams to identity theft.
Family Imposter scams: In this type of scam, a con artist pretends to be a family member or friend in need of money. They may even go so far as to create a fake email account or social media profile in the name of the person they’re pretending to be.
Romance scams: With this scam, the con artist creates a fake online dating profile and gains the trust of their victim. They may even send flowers or other gifts. Once they have gained the victim’s trust, they will ask for money.
Tech Support scams: In this scam, the scammer will call or email their victim pretending to be from a tech company like Microsoft. They will then claim that the victim’s computer has a virus and offer to fix it for a fee.
Knowing how to spot these scams is the first step in protecting yourself. If you are contacted by someone who you think may be a scammer, do not give them any personal information. Hang up the phone or delete the email. You can also contact your local law enforcement to report the scam.
Seniors are frequently targets of scammers who attempt to exploit their vulnerabilities. One popular scam that has been making the rounds lately is an impersonation scam involving doctored credentials.
How Does the Impersonation Scam Work?
The Social Security Matters Blog warns of the rise of this scam. How does it work? The scammer will contact the senior by phone, email, or even in person. They will then claim to be from a government agency or another credible source. The scammer may say that they need to verify the senior’s Social Security number or other personal information, or that they need to pay money to resolve an issue or receive a monetary reward of some kind.
It’s important to know that no government agency or credible source will ever contact a citizen and ask for personal information over the phone or via email.
If you are contacted by someone claiming to be from a government agency, do not give them any information. Instead, hang up the phone or delete the email. If you are contacted in person, ask to see their credentials. If they do not have any credentials, or if their credentials look fake or doctored in any way, do not give them any information.
Even our nation’s top law enforcement officials can be the targets of elder fraud.
In 2021 alone, more than 92,000 seniors were victims of elder fraud. And one scammer picked an unfortunate target: the former director of the FBI and his wife. Watch below to see how former FBI Director William Webster and his wife Lynda handled a scammer who took it a step further by threatening violence.
While not every senior has the same connections as former members of the FBI, everyone can learn from how he and his wife handled this situation. They shut down the scammer and reached out for help right away.
Lynda advocates for a community approach to end elder fraud. “The younger people have to keep an eye on mom or dad or an elderly neighbor,” CBS News quotes her as saying. Checking in on elderly friends or neighbors can help protect them from scams.
Never give out personal information, no matter how benign it may seem. Even something as seemingly innocuous as your birthday can be used to scam you. Be especially wary of anyone who contacts you out of the blue, whether it’s by phone, text, email, or in person.
When looking at the different ways that scam artists target seniors, it’s easy to focus on the ones that lure victims in with emotional appeals. Grandparent and sweetheart scams are both examples of this. But there’s another type of scam that’s just as dangerous, if not more so — the fraudulent check scheme.
How One Las Vegas Man Swindled Seniors Out of Millions
One recent example of an especially insidious fraudulent check scheme took place in Las Vegas. A 76-year-old resident of the city, Michael Zeto, was discovered to be stealing money from other seniors’ bank accounts by depositing fraudulent checks.
He first purchased the names and bank account information of senior citizens from foreign telemarketers. He created checks in their names and deposited them into his own business accounts. Zeto has since been caught, however, and faces many years in prison for this form of fraud.
Stay Safe from Fraudulent Check Schemes
Fraudulent check schemes are just one of the many ways that scam artists target seniors. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
The most important thing is to be aware of the signs of fraud. If someone you don’t know asks you to deposit a check for them, be very suspicious. Never give out your bank account information to someone you don’t know.
You should also keep a close eye on your bank account. Check your statements regularly and report any suspicious activity to your bank immediately. If you do become the victim of fraud, be sure to contact the police so they can catch the person responsible.
By following these simple steps, you can help keep yourself safe from fraudulent check schemes and other types of scams. At The Seniors Center, we’re helping seniors stay safe — and providing helpful information about Social Security and other issues impacting older Americans. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to learn more!
Phishing scams are becoming more and more sophisticated—so much so that even a savvy guy like Keith Hernandez almost fell for one.
What Are Phishing Scams?
Phishing scams are a type of fraud where scammers send emails or texts that look like they’re from a legitimate company in an attempt to get you to share personal information like your Social Security number, credit card number, or bank account login information.
They might also try to get you to download software that will give them access to your computer or device.
Once they have this information, they can use it to commit identity theft or financial fraud.
Hernandez, a former MLB player and current broadcaster for the New York Mets, recently shared his story of how he almost fell victim to a phishing scam. He received an email that looked very official, purporting to be from Florida Power & Light, saying he needed to pay them a deposit or his power would be shut off.
The email looked legitimate at first glance, and he even called the number they gave him. But luckily, he called his bank before he gave them any of his personal information.
This incident is a reminder that we all need to be careful about the emails we open and click on. If you’re ever unsure about the legitimacy of an email, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not click on any links or attachments.
Stay Safe from Scams
If you think you may have been the victim of a phishing scam, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also learn more about how to protect yourself from these types of scams by keeping up with The Seniors Center‘s latest posts.
Many seniors are aware of the most common forms of fraud targeting older adults, like romance scams and grandparent scams. However, scam artists are always coming up with new ways to attempt to steal money from hardworking Americans. Gift card scams, in which scam artists use tech support to weasel their way into seniors’ lives, have conned some individuals out of all they have.
One Woman’s Gift Card Scams Story
AARP has reported extensively on different forms of fraud targeting seniors, including gift card scams. One woman interviewed, a former teacher, spent $45,000 on gift cards over the course of three days. She was targeted by two individuals: one posing as an American Express employee, the other pretending to be a Microsoft tech support agent.
These individuals claimed that they could see illicit purchases made by the woman online and that there was a warrant out for her arrest. For them to help her, she would need to purchase them gift cards to the tune of five figures.
It was only once the ordeal was over that the former teacher realized she had been the victim of a scam. Now, working with the police, the FBI, and her credit card company, she’s making an effort to get back what she’s lost.
How can you avoid falling victim to this scam? First, know that no legitimate company or government agency will ask you to pay them in gift cards.
Additionally, pop-ups on your computer purporting to be from Microsoft can be a form of fraud. When in doubt, reach out to your credit card company or tech support agency directly rather than calling the number the pop-up provides.
Too often, the tactics used to put an end to scams targeting seniors only work once fraud or abuse has taken place. It’s more difficult to prevent fraud in the first place. However, a new law, The Seniors Fraud Prevention Act, could help.
What is The Seniors Fraud Prevention Act?
Just last week, President Biden signed the bill into law, according to reporting from CBS affiliate WGME. The Seniors Fraud Prevention Act enjoys bipartisan support and exists to protect senior citizens from becoming victims of scams in the first place. The act provides for a new office within the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that will work to root out scams and provide education for vulnerable seniors.
A few of the provisions of the act include:
Enhanced fraud monitoring
Increased consumer education on scams and forms of fraud
A stronger complaint tracking system at the Federal Trade Commission
These efforts can help protect seniors from fraud, but avoiding falling for a scam involves vigilance as well. If you suspect that you are being targeted in a scam, report it to the FTC right away.
Many scam artists target elderly Americans. They can be attractive targets because many seniors have retirement savings or own their own homes, resources that are valuable to scammers. The FBI works to take down scam artists, but relies on tips and insight from everyday American seniors to find out what common scams are causing problems.
This video from the FBI details how a former director of the agency was targeted by a scam and how he and his wife were able to take down the scam artist. Their article also gives seniors insight into how they can spot and report fraud.
Common Scams Targeting Seniors
According to the FBI, of the most common senior scams include:
Lottery scams – Be wary of anyone contacting you claiming that you have won money
Caregiver or guardianship scams – These insidious forms of fraud take advantage of seniors when they are most vulnerable
Tech support scams – Giving out passwords or access to devices can allow scam artists to steal personal information or money
If you suspect that you’re being targeted by a scam artist, you can use the FBI Tip Form to report your findings. Giving as much detail as possible can help the agency track down bad actors.