Senior Scams And Fraud
Detectives in the Suffolk County Police Department in New York were able to save a 77-year-old woman from one of the most popular frauds perpetrated against older adults: The Grandparent Scam.
Detectives in the financial crimes unit said the woman, who lives in Bixby, Oklahoma, was contacted by someone claiming to be her grandson. The person said he was arrested for running a red light in Kansas City, Kansas, and needed money for bail. The alleged grandson told the woman to send $4,000 cash to an address in Huntington Station in Suffolk County, New York. The detectives were notified of the scam and were able to intervene before the money was delivered to the fraudsters.
Police authorities nationwide warn seniors to be wary of the Grandparent Scam, which older adults tend to fall for because of their concern for their grandchildren. Police say the schemers have been getting bolder in recent years and now come to a grandparent’s house to collect money for the alleged grandchild in trouble.
The scam usually works this way:
- Someone contacts a grandparent pretending to be the person’s grandchild. The scammer might also pose as a lawyer calling on behalf of the grandchild.
- The person might sound frantic and speak quickly or might speak softly or make an excuse as to why he or she sounds differently.
- The alleged grandchild claims to be in jail and needs bail or sick in the hospital and needs to pay the hospital bill, or stranded in a foreign country and needs money to get home, or needs money for some other reason.
- The scammer also asks the grandparent not to tell anyone, especially a parent.
- The scammer asks the grandparent to wire money, buy gift cards, or the scammer says someone will come to the grandparent’s house to pick up the money.
Each year, seniors lose thousands of dollars not only to grandparent scams but to other schemes as well. In fact, the FBI reports that the number of older adult scam victims is rising at an alarming rate.
In 2021, over 92,000 victims over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). This represents a 74 percent increase in losses reported in 2020, according to the IC3’s 2021 Elder Fraud Report. The FBI’s IC3 report also noted that the average dollar loss per victim was $18,246, with 3,133 victims losing more than $100,000.
Amy Goyer, AARP’s national family, and caregiving expert say the COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in more seniors falling victims to scammers.
“They (seniors) tend to be more isolated, and they tend to be more trusting and polite,” Goyer said in an interview about scams against seniors. “The pandemic has magnified that. People are even more isolated, especially older adults because they were more likely to be impacted by the virus.”
Besides grandparent scams, seniors are also the target of scams involving sweepstakes, online dating, and tech support scams.
As an example, Suffolk County police detectives were also notified of a case involving a 66-year-old man from Maryland who received an email claiming that his computer was infected with a virus. The email said tech support had accessed the man’s computer and mistakenly refunded him $16,750 but needed it back. Police said the man sent the money through a shipping service to an address in Mastic Beach in Suffolk County.
Once again, the detectives were able to intervene before money was given to the scammers. But not all older adults are as fortunate as the seniors in Suffolk County.
Police in Mobile County, Alabama reported two men committed suicide last year after losing their life savings to scams. In one case, a man was swindled in a prize-winning scheme. In another case, a 79-year-old man was involved in a romance scheme and blackmailed after the scammer sent him a photo with his image on a screen with FBI agents looking at it. The scammer told the man that FBI agents were “coming after him.” The man paid the blackmailer with his life savings and also borrowed money from others before taking his life.
Federal Legislation To Help Seniors
In March, the bipartisan Fraud and Scam Reduction Act was signed into law to address the growing problem of fraud against seniors.
The legislation calls for:
- Establishing a Senior Scams Prevention Advisory Group to create educational materials and information on model programs to guide retailers, financial services, and wire-transfer companies on preventing scams against seniors.
- Creating an office within the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection to advise the agency about preventing fraud targeting seniors and assist with monitoring mail, television, internet, telemarketing, and robocalls targeting older Americans. The FTC is the agency responsible for handling consumer complaints.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota was part of the bipartisan group that sponsored the bill.
“All Americans deserve safety and dignity in their senior years, but too often, older Americans are the targets of deceptive scams that can have serious consequences,” Sen. Klobuchar said in a statement after the bill passed.
AARP supported the measure.
“Scammers use a wide range of increasingly sophisticated tactics and opportunities to steal money or sensitive personal information, so our nation’s laws need to keep up,” AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond said in a press release.
Tips to Avoid Fraud
According to police, there are several ways seniors can protect themselves from scams:
- Resist the urge to pay money, no matter how dramatic the scammer’s story is.
- Verify the caller’s identity by either hanging up and calling or texting the “real” grandchild or a family member or friend to verify the story, or asking the caller questions that a stranger cannot answer.
- Do not give your address or any personal or bank account information to the scammer.
- Do not send cash, gift cards, or money transfer (including wire transfers and money orders). Police say anyone who asks you to pay by gift card or money transfer is a scammer. Always.
Lastly, police say to simply trust your instincts because if you think you are being scammed, you probably are.
If you have been a victim of a scam or someone you know has been scammed, contact your local police department or report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.