Elderly Scam / Fraud Alert
During the COVID-19 pandemic, families kept in touch with their elderly family members to make sure that they were safe. Now, advocates for seniors are urging families to keep the lines of communication open to make sure their loved ones are not falling for financial scams.
It’s not always easy to talk to your aging parents or other older adult relatives about how they handle their finances. But senior advocates, law enforcement officials, and consumer agencies encourage families to start a conversation if they feel that something is not right with their older relatives. Many times, seniors who are scammed are embarrassed to acknowledge that they have been a victim of fraud.
Now that older adults are getting vaccinated and becoming more active, families can do their part to make their loved one aware of fraud.
1. Help Seniors Establish a Household Budget
It’s easier to help your parents or elderly relatives when they trust you enough to talk about their finances. If your loved one allows, you can help them to set up a household budget and keep track of their spending. Then, you will have a better idea of whether they experienced financial losses through fraud, such as scam sweepstakes and lotteries.
For instance, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported that scammers told a Michigan man, who was a widower in his 80s, that he had won $2.5 million, gold medallions, and a luxury car in a sweepstakes. But, he had to pay $72,000 upfront to claim the prizes. The scammers maintained daily contact with him even though his daughter had his phone number changed. The man withdrew $72,000 from his savings and mailed cash to a specified address in Mississippi. According to the BBB, it’s not likely that such losses can be recovered.
You can also remind your loved ones to routinely review statements from their bank and other financial institutions, and you can offer to help them. In doing this, you may be able to detect irregular financial activity.
2. Be Wary of Strangers Asking For Donations
Whether on the phone, online, or door-to-door, fraudsters try to “cozy up” to seniors to win over their confidence before asking them for a donation to a non-existent charity. Many older adults care about helping others. Unfortunately, this makes them more vulnerable to falling for requests from strangers.
You can remind your loved one of “stranger danger,” just as parents do with their young children. Seniors who do not have trusted family members can ask a friend, lawyer, banker or another authority figure to verify the alleged charity. Remind them not to feel silly for asking about donation requests in advance. Although they may feel silly, they will still have their money.
3. Warn of Identity Theft
It’s important to warn seniors about identity theft, which skyrocketed in the United States to nearly 1.4 million in 2020, nearly double the figure of 650,523 in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
One of the most reported forms of identity fraud involves REAL ID, a government-issued driver’s license or identification card that will be required to board airplanes and enter certain federal buildings. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline for obtaining a REAL ID was moved from Oct. 1, 2021, to May 3, 2023.
While the extended deadline gives consumers more time to be in compliance, it also provides fraudsters more time to come up with new scams.
In late May, for example, the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles reported that scammers were sending people to a phony website to validate details for a “driver’s license waiver.” State officials say that a waiver does not exist.
To avoid these scams, offer to help your loved ones get a REAL ID or other required legal documents.
4. Beware of Scammers Offering Help With FEMA Funeral Assistance
If an older adult relative has died from COVID-19, be forewarned that the surviving spouse may be the target of scammers pretending to be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
FEMA has been helping families pay for funeral and burial expenses if their loved one died after January 20, 2020, from COVID-19 and if other conditions are met.
Scammers, posing as FEMA representatives, offer to register families for funeral assistance or speed up the process for a fee. What the imposters really want are the name, birth date, Social Security number, and other personal information of the deceased individuals, which FEMA warns not to disclose to strangers.
FEMA says that it does not contact individuals unless they have first called the agency or applied for funeral assistance. What’s more, families do not need to pay for something that they can do for free.
5. Be Careful of Job Scams
Fraudsters have been taking advantage of unemployed seniors and other people looking for jobs. Legitimate companies reported having their logos and identities stolen by scammers who offer non-existent jobs to applicants. The fraudsters then “interview” prospective employees and attempt to steal their personal information.
A BBB study found employment scams were the most likely type of fraud perpetrated in 2018 and 2019, with an estimated 14 million people experiencing employment fraud and over $2 billion a year lost due to employment scams. Most of the victims were between 25 and 54 years old who lost between $1,000 and $1,600. Victims 65 years old and older lost an average of $1,550.
6. Be on the Lookout for Travel Scams
Be on the alert if your elderly loved ones tell you that they plan to book a rock-bottom travel deal, like five nights in a hotel in Maui plus airfare for $200. A “deal” like that is probably a scam, according to Amy Nofziger, an AARP anti-fraud expert.
With more Americans wanting to take vacations now, scammers are waiting to pounce on them with phony travel deals, says Lois Greisman, director of the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices.
In addition, fraudsters put up fake websites that look like the legitimate websites of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration PreCheck or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program. Scammers claim on their fraudulent websites that, for a fee, they can speed travelers through airport security.
Nofziger advises travelers of all ages to “simply walk away” from deals that sound “too good to be true.” Nofziger says that you can tell that it’s a scam if the company wants you to pay a fee with a prepaid gift card instead of a credit card or debit card. What’s more, Nofziger advises all travelers to work with travel agencies or companies that have a “long, proven history of offering travel opportunities.”
Suspect Fraud? Contact AARP
AARP Fraud Watch Network helps protect seniors from scam artists.
If you suspect fraud, contact AARP’s Helpline at 877-908-3360 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday.