Nobody wants to admit that they got fooled. Taken advantage of. Bamboozled. Scammed.
Unfortunately for older members of our community, there have never been more avenues for financial con artists to try and swindle them out of their money. From phone scams, to visits at home, to the ever-growing threat of online phishing, elderly Americans have to remain on guard like never before.
It can be especially embarrassing for older citizens to come forward after being scammed. According to a New York State study cited by USA Today in 2017, for every case of financial exploitation that is reported, as many as 43 go unreported.
“Seniors have always been a target for the criminals, the con artists, the scammers,” said Richard Eppstein, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northwestern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan.
“The methods they use have changed, the technology has changed, but the situation with seniors remains the same, and that is, they tend to be more trusting, they tend to be more willing to listen.”
According to Justin Moor, VP of planning and program development at the Area Office on Aging, the lack of reporting makes it all the more crucial that individuals who feel they have been scammed take the step to report the crime.
“There’s a lot of older adults that feel embarrassed or ashamed that they were taken advantage of by somebody,” Moor said. “And they oftentimes don’t report it because of that, the crime that was done against them. And sometimes these predators who are going after older adults and their money prey on that, that fear and that embarrassment and that sense of shame.”
The sheer number of scams targeted at seniors has skyrocketed with advancements such as robocalling and “spoofing” — falsifying data to appear as someone they are not, whether in digital form or via caller ID. “What the seniors don’t understand is, the technology is even more effective at swindling them and fooling them than it’s ever been in the past,” Eppstein said.
Beyond a desire to catch the individuals who worked to swindle them out of their money, Moor said victims who come forward can help protect other individuals from the same fate.
“They are just allowed to continue to do that to somebody else when it doesn’t get reported. So we try to get the word out to older adults — if this does happen to you, don’t let a sense of shame or embarrassment become a barrier to you reporting this. Because when you report it, you really are helping out another older adult who otherwise might fall victim to the same criminal,” Eppstein adds.
Staying on guard
In every case, it’s always a good idea to simply keep one’s guard up when dealing with an individual you don’t know well. Never divulge personal information on an incoming phone call. Never allow unsolicited individuals into your home. Ask for identification and verify that they are who they claim to be.
“Never indicating that you live alone, is another big one. Asking the caller for the name of their business organization or telephone number, and then calling to verify the information that the person is giving,” Moor said.
And if you receive an automatic call — one that asks you to press one or two to get more information, or even to “opt out” of receiving further calls — do not press anything, Eppstein said. You are giving the scammers the very information they are looking for.
“These calls come by the billions, just in huge random numbers, every five seconds. Millions and millions of these are thrown at random Americans, and the criminals don’t know who they’re calling, they’re just throwing that out there. But if you press either 1 or 2, you are signaling them that it is a live number.”
Because they are so rarely reported, financial confidence crimes are considered “low risk” and can be aimed at wealthy and low-income individuals alike. Here are just some of the most common varieties of scams and how to recognize them.
Health Insurance: Because anyone over 65 is eligible for Medicare, scam artists often will pose as a Medicare agent asking for personal and financial information.
IRS: A robocall claims that an individual owes a large amount that needs to be paid immediately. Calls often appear genuine thanks to “spoofing” manipulating caller ID to mask the caller’s true identity. “The IRS does not call you up out the blue to tell you that you owe back taxes,” Eppstein said. “But when you look at the caller ID, you tend to trust that. And it is a swindle. You must never trust caller ID.”
Lottery: “Somebody calls them to inform them that they are the winner of a lottery that they didn’t even purchase a ticket for, and they need to front some money for taxes or something along those lines, before they can get the proceeds from their winnings,” Moor said.
Home Repair: A con artist visits the home of an elderly individual claiming to be a repairman who sees a problem on their property — leaky roof, cracked driveway — and that they can easily fix it for an up-front payment. They then leave after minimal or no work on the supposedly important issue.
Friends and Relatives: Some of the most insidious scams can come from individuals claiming to be the victims’ own flesh and blood. Con artists claiming to be grandchildren or other relatives needing cash immediately — often bolstered by details the scammers learned by monitoring the social media accounts of their victims.
Internet Fraud: Older adults may not be as tech-savvy as their younger family members, and may be more easily fooled by pop-up window scams claiming to be anti-virus software or emails phishing for personal information. “It’s just another front door, if you will — a virtual one that people can come knocking on to try to gain entry to the older adult’s pocketbook,” Moor said.
If you believe you have been targeted or victimized by a scam artist, please contact Adult Protective Services at the Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services at: 419-213-8663