Elderly Scams / Fraud Alert
The telephone rings in the home of an older adult and on the other end is a frantic voice crying, “Grandma, Grandma, I have the coronavirus and I’m in the hospital! Can you wire me money to pay my bill?”
The caller is not likely the person’s grandchild but a scammer running a “Grandparent Scam,” one of the most common frauds perpetrated against older adults. In this scheme, scammers posing as grandchildren call unsuspecting seniors asking them to wire money to help them get out of jail, another country, or some other difficult situation. Unfortunately, seniors don’t realize until it’s too late that the person on the other end of the call was a scammer and not their grandchild.
Adults over 65 are the targets of scams that come through phone calls, emails, the Internet, text messages, social media, and even in-person from door-to-door scammers. While people of all ages lose money to fraud, the median loss of people 70 years old and over is much higher than in other age groups, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FBI believes older adults are often targeted by scammers because they tend to be trusting and polite. And, scammers believe seniors have financial savings, own a home, and have good credit.
Although fraud is perpetrated in a variety of ways, imposter scams rank among the top, according to the FTC. Imposter scams include fraudsters claiming to be a relative in distress, or a technical support expert, a well-known business, or a representative from the government.
Scams Involving Medicare
Medicare beneficiaries are favorite targets for scams. Scammers pose as representatives from Medicare or a company to offer free or low-cost knee or back braces, genetic testing, or “free” services in pop-up mobile clinics from people alleging to be healthcare providers.
The fraudsters provide a phony service, bill Medicare, and take the money. They may also ask Medicare beneficiaries for their Medicare number, Social Security number, or bank account number to steal their personal information and commit financial fraud.
If that’s not enough, scammers also call Medicare beneficiaries and threaten to cut off their benefits if they do not send a gift card or money in exchange.
Medicare fraud costs the government billions of dollars each year, according to the FTC. Because of the rampant fraud, the FTC advises Medicare recipients to check their monthly Medicare statements and contact Medicare about any questionable charges. The FTC also reminds seniors that Medicare does not call beneficiaries and ask them for financial information and personal information.
Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
Fraudsters know that many seniors use expensive prescription drugs and search for lower-cost alternatives. So, fraudsters set up what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calls “rogue” pharmacy websites to offer counterfeit medications. In many instances, the rogue websites display a Canadian flag, but may actually be operated by criminals from another country who have no connection to Canada.
According to the FDA, fake medicines bought from these websites can be dangerous and may put the buyer’s health at risk. The federal agency warns against buying prescription medications from online pharmacies that do not require a valid prescription from a healthcare provider, and do not have a U.S. state-licensed pharmacist available to answer questions.
Phony Department of Justice Investigators
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) wants seniors to know that the department does not call older adults and ask for their personal and financial information.
Scammers claiming to be DOJ “investigators” ask for the call recipient’s personal information. If there is no answer, the scammers leave a voicemail with a return phone number. The return phone number leads callers to a recorded menu similar to the DOJ’s recorded menu.
The caller reaches a so-called “operator” who sends the caller to someone claiming to be an “investigator.” The so-called investigator then attempts to obtain the caller’s personal information. The DOJ warns seniors against sharing their information when answering unsolicited phone calls.
With the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) came an outbreak of COVID-19-related frauds:
Charity Scams. Legitimate charitable organizations have been raising money for people who have lost jobs and those with exorbitant medical bills due to COVID-19. Scammers have seized the opportunity to perpetrate fraud on generous donors wanting to help others who are struggling economically because of the pandemic. While legitimate charitable organizations are holding COVID-19-related fundraisers, seniors should research any charitable organizations that they are not familiar with and never give donations through cash, gift cards, or wire money.
Email Scams. Fraudsters copy the logos of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send emails that allegedly provide the most up-to-date news about the virus. However, clicking on a button to read the news unleashes malware. Scammers also copy the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map to install spyware that can steal passwords, credit card numbers, and other data stored within the web browser.
Seniors should also watch out for companies selling fraudulent products that allegedly treat, cure, or prevent COVID-19. The FDA warns that unproven products have not been evaluated by the agency for safety and effectiveness and might be dangerous to the buyer’s health.
Technical Support Scams
In this scam, a person calls claiming to be a representative of Microsoft or Apple, or computer users will get a pop-up on their screen warning them of a problem with their computer. Scammers then convince computer users to give them remote access to their computer so that they can identify and resolve the problem. Once they get access, the scammers run so-called scans and discover “the problem.” The scammers then ask for payment.
In 2018, people over 60 were about five times more likely to report losing money to technical support scams than younger people, according to the FTC.
Older adults are encouraged to report scams to the Federal Trade Commission via its website at ftc.gov or by calling 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357). Frauds can also be reported to the FBI for law enforcement action at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/report-fraud