Scams Targeting The Elderly
Older adults are not only taking precautions to protect themselves against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), they are also watching out for scams targeting the elderly.
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, police authorities and state attorneys general nationwide are warning seniors and their family members to be on the lookout for grandparent scams, IRS imposter scams, fake lottery winner notices, and other scams designed to con older adults out of their money.
Since the passage of the Elder Abuse and Prosecution Act of 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been partnering with other law enforcement agencies to crack down on the growing trend of fraud against the elderly.
According to the FBI, an estimated 2 million older adults in the United States lose more than $700 million each year to scammers. If caught, swindlers can face elder abuse charges that may carry penalties of imprisonment upon conviction.
The Grandparent Scam
The grandparent scam is one of the most common scams reported by older adults and their family members. The scam starts with a frantic phone call from a fraudster posing as the person’s grandchild. The calls are usually urgent in nature with the scammer claiming to be in a desperate situation and in immediate need for money to get out of the predicament.
The amount of money requested varies depending on the circumstances. In one instance, a grandmother wired $60,000 to an out-of-state bank after a scammer posing as her grandson and another posing as a lawyer, said the grandson had been arrested on drug charges.
In another case, a fraudster posed as an 82-year-old woman’s cousin. The con artist knew her name and her cousin’s name, which is why she believed he was involved in a serious accident that injured a girl and needed $5,100 for bail.
The woman went to the bank to withdraw the money, and met a man in a parking lot, per the scammer’s instructions, and turned the money over to him.
Fortunately, the police discovered the scammer’s true identity and obtained a warrant for the 27-year-old man’s arrest on felony charges of larceny of $1,200 or more by false pretense and from a person 60 or older.
“You Have Won but First Send Money!”
Seniors are encouraged to hang up the phone if someone calls claiming that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes that they have never heard of or entered.
Scammers contact older adults with a phone call or through mass mailings to announce that they have won—or may be eligible to win—prize money. However, in order to receive the prize, the “winners” must first send a check to verify their banking information, or send money via a wire transfer, or pay a fee or tax.
The Federal Trade Commission and state lottery officials advise older adults to never pay out money or provide personal or financial information to claim prize money.
Also, a state lottery’s website provides information on how the office notifies winners of its various games. Sweepstake entrants are encouraged to read the fine print and requirements of any contests prior to entering.
Stimulus Check Scams
Older adults have been the target of stimulus check scams even before Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act provides economic relief to individuals and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The IRS sent an Economic Impact Payment, more commonly known as stimulus checks, of $1,200 to people who are single and $2,400 to married couples who jointly file income taxes.
Scammers contacted seniors via email, text messages, and social media claiming that they could help older adults get their checks. The seniors, however, must first provide personal or financial information. The con artists would take this information and steal the money.
At the same time, some nursing homes were taking stimulus checks away from Medicaid recipients. Medicaid pays 100 percent of costs at skilled nursing facilities approved by Medicaid.
Under some circumstances, nursing home residents receiving Medicaid are required to sign over resources to contribute to the cost of their care. Some nursing homes considered stimulus checks as additional income for Medicaid residents.
Federal agencies and state attorneys general, however, directed nursing homes to return the money because the IRS says stimulus checks are tax credits—and not income— under the CARES Act. According to the U.S. Tax Code, tax credits do not count as income or resources to be included in determining eligibility for federal relief programs.
Seniors Urged to Report Scams
Older adults are often the targets of crime because they are more likely to be trusting, polite, and have financial savings, according to the FBI. Besides that, older adults are less likely to report being swindled because they may not know how to report it or they may be too ashamed or embarrassed over what happened, the FBI says.
What’s more, seniors might also worry that their family members may believe that they can easily be duped and can no longer manage their own financial matters.
Police authorities and advocates for seniors urge older adults who believe they have been victims of a scam to report scams or attempted scams to their local police department, or their state attorney general’s office.
Seniors who believe they have been victims of a scam can also lodge a complaint with:
- The Federal Trade Commission online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1 or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)
- AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline: 877-908-3360