INDIANA — Con artists, criminals and even family members prey upon America’s seniors using traditional tactics, but also in new and unpredictable ways. It’s a problem that costs them billions of dollars every year, not to mention the heartache and fear that often accompanies it.
According to the National Council on Aging, more than 90 percent of all reported elder financial abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews and others.
“Our diligent staff has helped save countless senior members from scams, unscrupulous family members and others who have gained trust,” Joel Richard, vice president of fraud and loss prevention at Interra Credit Union, Goshen, said. “But on the other hand, senior credit union members have also lost thousands of dollars.”
“It’s so important to be aware of the types of tactics that are used to prey upon unsuspecting or trusting seniors,” he noted. Some of the financial scams include;
Social media. “Our members are currently most often victimized by and report social media scams” reports Brittany Leeper, fraud specialist at Interra. They take place on any site where social engagement is possible, such as Facebook.
Preying on unsuspecting or lonely victims, the criminals typically gain trust in romantic or friendship scenarios over a period of months. Then, they start asking for money, usually requesting transfers through Western Union or MoneyGram. They bilk the victims out of a few hundred dollars each time, usually over a period of several weeks. “This scam is not only harmful financially, but emotionally as well,” Leeper said.
Telemarketing/phone. Fake telemarketing calls prey on older people. With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are almost impossible to trace.
- The pigeon drop. The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a good faith payment, with instructions to wire money by Western Union or similar money transfer system.
- The fake accident ploy. The con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money.
- Charity scams. Money is solicited for fake charities, often after natural disasters.
If you get this type of call, ask for the name and inquire where the call is coming from. Then, call the financial institution or agency and inquire about the situation. “Interra and any other reputable financial institution will never call you requesting an account number,” Richard pointed out. “It’s important to do business with companies you trust.”
Phishing scams via e-mail. The victim receives e-mail messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, requesting to update or verify personal information, including account numbers. “Similar to the telemarketing scams, a reputable source will not request this type of information,” Richard said.
Sweepstakes & lottery. Criminals call or mail information to seniors, claiming they have won a lottery or sweepstakes and need to make a payment to access the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit, knowing that while it shows up in the account immediately, it will take a few days before the fake check is rejected. During that time, the criminals will quickly pocket the good funds, leaving the victim with a return check to cover.
The grandparent scam. In this devious scam, the caller will say something like “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has the grandchild’s name to use.
Then, the “grandchild” asks for money to solve a financial problem, such as car repairs or even claiming to be in jail, to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect. Then, the scam artist begs the grandparent, “Please don’t tell my parents; they would kill me.”
“We find that many of our senior members are embarrassed to admit they have been victimized.” Richard said. “It’s important for them to understand they are not alone; these things unfortunately happen to many people.” He suggests that rather than running the risk of making matters worse, seek guidance from someone you trust, starting with your financial institution or local law enforcement officials.
Knowledge and awareness are the best weapons against the potential scams. Richard encourages seniors to regularly monitor their accounts and important business dealings and follow up on any irregularities. “It’s better to be overly cautious than to run the risk of fraud and monetary loss,” he added.