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The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office provides this guide to help alert you to the dangers of consumer fraud directed at older people. Awareness is the most effective way to attack this problem. This guide will inform you about the common scams aimed at seniors and the steps you can take to thwart the swindlers.
Fast Facts on Fraud
Telemarketing fraud alone is a $40 billion a year business.
Although people in their twenties report being defrauded more often than people over 70, they tend to lose less money to the fraudsters than senior citizens.
Scams and frauds conducted by mail, telephone, and computer are increasingly coming to you from other countries.
How to Avoid Scams
Don’t send money orders, prepaid cards, or gift cards to people you don’t know. Legitimate companies and the government don’t usually ask for payment this way.
If a company tells you over the phone that your computer has a virus or needs protection, take your computer to a trusted computer repair shop.
If you get a call or email claiming that a loved one needs emergency money, call the loved one before sending money in case the request is a scam.
Don’t give your personal information—including social security, credit card, or bank account numbers—to people you don’t know who contact you, even if they claim to be with a company you know, like your bank.
If your bank or credit card company calls you and asks you to confirm or provide personal information, like account numbers, social security numbers, or your date of birth, hang up and call the company back at a phone number you have obtained from a reputable source.
Ask for written materials before you commit yourself to any sales offer.
Before you send any money, check out the company and its offer with the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau.
Walk away from a “deal” if you are being pressured to make an immediate decision.
Seniors are Targeted for Fraud
It is hard to spot fraud when it is happening. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that consumers lose more than $40 billion a year to telemarketing fraud alone. And, if you are an older consumer, you are a special target for those offering bogus prizes or selling bogus products and services.
Most seniors grew up in an era when business was done on a handshake; unfortunately, crooks are playing on that trust. Imposters who pretend to be family members in need rely on senior citizens having family members that they love and want to protect.
The economic consequences older Minnesotans face when defrauded are often devastating. Most seniors in Minnesota live on a fixed income and more than half of Social Security beneficiaries receive 50 percent or more of their income from Social Security. With fixed monthly pension or Social Security checks, it is nearly impossible to replenish bank accounts or money saved for retirement when it is taken by scams.
Con artists use several methods to contact potential victims: phone, mail, door-to-door sales, and increasingly commonly by cell phone and computers. Some scams involve a combination of methods. For example, swindlers may generate leads by mailing or conducting a survey online to gauge interest in a product or service. Consumers who indicate interest are then contacted by telephone or email for a high-pressure sales pitch.
Other scammers already have some of your personal information and pretend to be with a company you do business with in order to get more information. Once they get more information they can then open an account in your name and make unauthorized purchases.
This guide identifies common scams that target Minnesota seniors, identifies the common warning signs of each scam, and provides information to help you thwart the con artists and protect your assets.
BEWARE: Common Scams
Scams can be large or small, sophisticated or simple, and come from next door or across the world. But the crooks behind them have two things in common. They want to steal your money and avoid being caught. Below is a list of common scams. Turn the tables on con artists behind them—don’t fall for their tricks. Report these scams and their perpetrators to the Attorney General’s Office.
In a typical grandparent scam, a con artist calls or emails you posing as a relative in distress or as someone claiming to represent the relative (such as a doctor, lawyer, or law enforcement agent). The scammer may frantically tell you a variation of “Grandma, it’s me,” followed by a description of the problem in which they have found themselves (arrested, in an auto accident, in need of a lawyer, etc.). You are then instructed to wire money to the scam artist who claims that the funds will be used for bail money, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills, or other expenses. You are also urged not to tell anyone, such as the parent of the “grandchild.” Many scams rely on money being wired or sent through prepaid cards like MoneyPak or iTunes, and consumers should be wary of any request for these types of payment, instead of using a credit card, which protects consumers in the event of a scam.
Fake Check Scams
Fake check scams—in which fraudsters ask their victims to cash realistic-looking checks and wire a portion of the proceeds back to the scammer before the check bounces—continues to be one of the most frequently- reported scams. There are many variations of the fake check scam, but whatever the pitch, they all have one thing in common: there is no legitimate reason for someone to give you money and then ask you to send money back.
Navigating the Medicare system isn’t easy and some scammers will look for any opportunity to take advantage of the confusion. Commonly, a scammer will claim to be with Medicare and ask for personal information such as Medicare, Medicaid, social security, credit card or bank account numbers. The victim might be given any number of excuses to provide this information including that an error needs to be fixed, that he or she is part of a survey or eligible to receive free products, or can sign up for a new prescription drug plan. Always keep in mind that Medicare will never call to ask for sensitive personal financial information.
Tech-support scammers make unsolicited phone calls or use pop-up Internet or cell phone text messages designed to look like warnings to frighten unsuspecting people into thinking their computer or cell phone has been hacked or has a virus. The scammer often pretends to be from a well-known computer or software company and offers to remotely fix your computer for a fee. At best, the “fix” is unnecessary and expensive software. But sometimes, scammers remotely install viruses or programs on your computer that let them steal information stored there, which allows them to commit identify theft. Unsuspecting people who give scam artists their bank account information or access to their computer sometimes find that the fraudster has drained their bank account.
Remember that technology companies generally do not reach out to consumers directly to sell computer support. If you are unsure whether your computer has a virus or has been hacked, contact a trusted local computer repair store.
Investment and Work-at-Home Scams
Promises of easy money often target older adults because seniors may be looking to supplement their income. The pitch might come in the form of an investment opportunity that promises big returns, or as a way to make money at home for an upfront cost. In either scenario, “up front” money is required to make the promised income. Sometimes the consumers receive nothing for the money they send. Other times they receive instructions on how to start an Internet business that is not realistic. Always research any work-at-home opportunity and beware of investment or money-making offers that seem too good to be true or use high pressure sales tactics to get you to sign up immediately. Do not make investments with anyone over the phone. Consult with a trusted financial planner or banker for investment advice. Most importantly, never invest money before thoroughly checking into the offer. Check out any phone or mail investment offers by calling the state Department of Commerce to see if the entity is licensed to do business in Minnesota.
You receive a letter, email, or text message stating that you have won a lottery, sweepstakes, or grant. This seemingly good news might quicken your pulse, but do not let it override your good judgment. Sometimes the message instructs you to deposit a check and then wire a portion back to the company to cover “taxes” or “administrative fees.” While the funds will initially show up in your bank account, and everything may seem valid, once the bank discovers that the check is a fake, the money will be removed from your account and you will find yourself out the money you sent to the company. Other times the message instructs you to send prepaid card information or gift cards in order to obtain your winnings.
When solicitations offer you the chance to win a lottery, they are offering you nothing but the chance to be taken. Watch out for lottery scams by recognizing these sure signs of a losing proposition:
Telemarketers and/or direct mail solicitations sometimes offer the opportunity to win the Canadian, Australian or other foreign lotteries.
You may be told the odds of winning increase when “group purchases” of lottery tickets are made.
Credit card numbers, checking account numbers, prepaid card numbers, or gift cards are requested.
Foreign lotteries are illegal in Minnesota and violate state and federal laws.
Personal and Medical Safety Product Scams
Aggressive door-to-door salespeople and telemarketers often target senior citizens with the sale of costly and deceptively-marketed products by exploiting their fears about their personal or medical safety. Don’t be swayed by unknown callers that try to scare you into buying a product, such as selling you an alarm by talking about a rash of burglaries in your city or a medical safety product by talking about medical errors in hospitals. While many people have legitimate medical and personal safety concerns as they age, the best way to deal with these concerns is to seek out reputable companies that offer meaningful products at a fair price.
“You Have Won” Calls and Mail
An excited salesperson on the other end of the phone or an official looking prize notice in the mail claims you have won a prize. Watch out. Often these prize awards have long and expensive strings attached. You can spot this scam almost right away if you look for these messages:
The caller or the mail piece tells you, “You have won a prize.”
You must purchase a product (like magazines), pay a processing fee, or pay taxes.
Request a credit card number, checking account number, or a social security number.
Often your money must be sent by overnight delivery to a company in another state or country.
No matter how appealing, hang up the phone or throw away the mail. Never give out your credit card number, checking account number, or social security number. Make sure you report the call or mail to the Attorney General’s Office.
Many charities depend on the generosity and donations of individuals. Unfortunately, some crooks take advantage of that generosity. Charity scams are often well disguised, but may be detected by a few common red flags:
Exorbitant prices are charged for everyday items (for example: a dozen light bulbs for $84.99).
Appeals for contributions are designed to look like bills or invoices.
Little detail is provided about how the charity operates or where the money goes.
Heart-wrenching appeals are used with high pressure tactics to force individuals to make quick decisions.
Elaborate gifts are included with the donation request to guilt you into making a donation.
Before you part with any money, research the charity. Ask for written information and read it carefully before you give. Find out how your contribution will be used and ask if your donation is tax deductible. Contributions by cash are impossible to trace, so pay by check. If you have doubts about a charity, contact the Attorney General’s Office. Minnesota law requires that charities be registered with the Attorney General’s Office, unless exempt. You may also wish to contact the Charities Review Council of Minnesota.
Senior citizens are often targeted by unscrupulous salespeople who prey on seniors’ financial fears in order to sell unwanted, unnecessary, and/or unsuitable living trusts, legal plans, and other financial products. Seniors should use extreme caution when approached by individuals trying to sell these types of products.
Living trusts organize your financial affairs and living wills spell out your health care wishes. The two are often confused. Scam artists play on the fact that seniors are not familiar with living trusts, so they advertise presentations at hotels or restaurants or come to your door with information to teach you about financial options, including trusts. Protect yourself. Watch for the following clues:
A salesperson requests highly personal financial information.
A salesperson, untrained in the law, says you need a trust or makes misleading statements about trusts such as: “A trust will protect your estate from inheritance taxes.”
Thousands of dollars are charged for boilerplate forms.
The sales pitch grossly emphasizes the need to avoid probate and grossly exaggerates the costs of probate.
Do not put your financial future into the hands of a door-to-door salesperson. Consult an attorney or financial planner who specializes in estate planning, or contact the Senior Federation legal referral program. Don’t forget that sales of products sold to you at your home can be cancelled within three business days under Minnesota’s three-day cooling-off law.
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area)
(800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities)
(800) 627-3529 (Minnesota Relay)
Senior Linkage Line
Minnesota Board on Aging
(800) 333-2433 www.mnaging.net
Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota
220 South River Ridge Circle
Burnsville, MN 55337
(651) 699-1111 or (800) 646-6222 www.bbb.org/minnesota
Seven County Senior Federation
(Aitkin, Carlton, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, & Pine Counties)
47 Park Street North, Suite 7
Mora, MN 55051
(320) 679-4700 or (866) 679-4700 www.7countyseniors.com
Minnesota Charities Review Council
700 Raymond Avenue, Suite 160
St. Paul, MN 55114
(651) 224-7030 www.smartgivers.org
Minnesota Department of Commerce
85 7th Place East, Suite 280
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 539-1570 or (800) 657-3602 www.mn.gov/commerce
Federal Trade Commission
Bureau of Consumer Protection
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
TTY: (866) 653-4261 www.consumer.ftc.gov
Seniors’ Legal Rights is a comprehensive publication designed to inform older people of their rights on a number of topics, ranging from consumer protection and estate planning to utilities and nursing homes. To order a copy please contact the Attorney General’s Office at the address and phone numbers above.
While it seems unconscionable to most, unscrupulous men and women often target senior citizens for devious scams to rob them of their money or identities. When scammers know how to confuse and gain the trust of the elderly, they have virtual free reign of bank accounts, personal information, and even assets.
If you’re concerned about the well-being of a senior in your life, or if you’re a senior who wants to protect yourself, learn about common risks and scams. Then, if someone approaches you or your loved one with a potential investment or opportunity, it will be easier to determine the legitimacy of the offer.
Scams Against the Elderly
Here are some of the most common schemes – and why they’re especially dangerous for seniors:
Prescription Drug Scams
Seniors often take a myriad of prescription medication, which can be quite expensive. Sure, Medicare helps with the costs, but some seniors are still left paying hundreds of dollars per month for prescriptions. It’s no wonder that seniors are likely to fall for online schemes that promise deeply discounted prices on medication. But once shoppers hand over a credit card number, their money is taken – and they’ll never receive any medication.
Plenty of seniors are eager to multiply their nest eggs to provide for a more comfortable retirement. And if they’ve already saved a tidy sum, they may have a little with which to take some risk. That makes seniors easy prey for fake “investment opportunities” that don’t really offer a return. Whether it’s plowing money into a fledgling or even fictional business, or buying vacation property that doesn’t exist, investment scams can deplete seniors of their savings in the blink of an eye.
Internet and Email Scams
The Internet can be a confusing place for seniors who haven’t had much experience with technology. A Pew ResearchInternet use study found that many adults over the age of 74 use the Internet solely for health information, news, and buying products, and are not as savvy when it comes to email, social networking, and online safety.
When a senior receives an email promising big returns for a small investment, it can be easy to become excited. Even if you can spot an Internet or email scam from a mile away, an unsuspecting senior might hand over his or her personal information without a second thought.
How many times have you received a message in your inbox notifying you that you’re the winner of a lottery in Nigeria, or some other faraway country? Savvy Internet users know the old tricks, but less-confident seniors often fall prey to the claim that they’ve hit it big. Usually, lottery schemes operate by asking the target to pay a certain amount to redeem the cash prize, or to pay for the “shipping and handling” to receive other goods. They might also ask for bank routing and account numbers and other highly personal information, which is then used for theft.
Reverse Mortgage Scams
Reverse mortgages have made it possible for some seniors to have a more comfortable retirement by turning their home equity into a reliable stream of income from the bank. Even a legitimate reverse mortgage, however, should be considered carefully, as in many cases, you must eventually turn your deed over to the bank. In other words, the bank – and not your heirs – could get your home when you pass away.
Unfortunately, not all “financial institutions” are the real deal. Seniors can fall prey to a scam artist who proposes a reverse mortgage – and then steals the equity. It’s one of the most complicated scams, but it also yields some of the highest returns for scammers.
Scammers posing as charity workers contact seniors and offer up a sad story which, of course, concludes with a plea for funding. Seniors are taken in by the tale, and send along money to help. Charity scams often carry a note of urgency – a telemarketer might note that money has to be given now, or ask that a credit card number be given in lieu of a mailed check. This gives a senior virtually no time to investigate the supposed charity and contemplate whether they should give. Such a scam takes advantage of a senior’s compassion, which can make it especially hurtful.
Check scams involve a con artist offering to buy an item from a seller (often an item that has been put up for sale online through Craigslist) using a cashier’s check, which is made out for an amount that is greater than necessary. The scammer then asks that the check be cashed, and the excess funds returned. Of course, the check is fraudulent, but if the money is returned before the seller realizes this, they have lost the funds – as well as the item they put up for sale. Since cashier’s checks are usually as good as gold, some seniors don’t ask questions and are taken in by the opportunity to sell quickly.
This is a scam that often confuses the elderly, as it causes them to panic and act without calmly considering the situation. A scam artist calls up the unsuspecting target, and with some basic information convinces the senior that he or she is a grandchild in a dire situation. Then, the scammer asks for financial help because of an accident or other emergency. The scammer then has money wired directly into his or her hands. Of course, the real grandchild is perfectly fine, oblivious that his or her name has been used to execute a scam.
Protecting the Elderly
While it’s important to be aware of the scams that senior citizens most often fall prey to, it’s even more important to know how to prevent being a victim. Take the time to explain the possible scams to your loved ones, and suggest the following techniques to help them avoid potentially devastating thefts:
Be Suspicious. If you or a loved one is generally trusting, being skeptical can be difficult. However, being generally suspicious of cold calls and unsolicited letters and emails that promise huge benefits is an effective way to stay protected.
Ask Questions and Get Information. Before you or your loved one does business with a new company, obtain a name, address, phone number, and website for the person you’re talking to. Just asking a few questions can be enough to scare some con artists away.
Become Familiar With Online Safety. Surf only reputable websites, adjust email spam settings to the highest level, and never share personal information like Social Security numberswith anyone online – even if it seems as though your bank is requesting it. Call the bank first.
Never Give Personal Information Online. An investment company or charity will neverask for a Social Security number via email. If you or your loved one receive an email requesting personal data, bank routing numbers, or other private information, it’s probably a scam.
Don’t Make Hasty Decisions. If a telemarketer pressures you to make an immediate decision, hang up the phone. Never make a decision to hand over money until you’ve had time to do careful research.
Check the BBB. The Better Business Bureauis a fantastic tool for confirming the legitimacy of financial institutions, charities, and other organizations. Always check with the BBB before offering up funds. If a company isn’t registered with the BBB, it could be fraudulent. A quick Internet search might also turn up information from people who have been scammed by a similar scheme.
Invest Carefully. The most fool-proof investments are done with the assistance of a financial advisor, not a random acquaintance or someone who cold-calls your house. It takes only a few minutes to contact your bank or planner, and it could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Find a planner or counselor you can trust, and run all investment ideas by him or her first.
Don’t Pay to Play. Neverprovide money to gain a prize. When someone asks for a routing number to deposit funds, or for shipping and handling charges for a “free” prize, it’s a clear sign that it’s not legit.
Protect Others. If you think you or a loved one has been the victim of a scam, contact your local police department to file a report. You can also let the FBI know about the scam artist by submitting your information to the FBI tips website.
You can’t always protect your loved ones from unpleasant experiences, but you can reduce the likelihood that they will become victims of a scam. Remember, if an offer seems to good to be true, it probably is. And though it may feel wrong to be suspicious of a charitable organization or a family member’s request for money, it’s always in your best interest to verify the identity and legitimacy first. Always confirm who you’re sharing your personal information with or providing money to before you go through with it.
Have you ever been affected by any of the above schemes? How did you protect yourself or your family?
Do you avoid online shopping to avoid identity theft? Do you feel safer shopping at traditional brick-and-mortar stores than you do online?
Even if you have never shopped online, used email or browse the Internet at a public computer, you may still be at risk for identity or credit card theft. Those chip-enabled credit cards in your wallet are indeed convenient, but they could be putting you at risk when you simply leave your front door.
What Is RFID?
Radio-Frequency Identity (RFID) is the technology some thieves are using to collect your credit card information, link it to another card and perform transactions.
It also has a lot of legitimate purposes, like luggage tracking, pet locator chips, and other uses. It’s the chip-tap function that so many point-of-sale terminals are now using.
Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to use RFID to steal credit card data without any personal contact. That means the innocent looking stranger next to you in a store, on the bus or just passing you on the street may be scanning you and storing your credit card number for their own personal gain.
That’s right, you don’t feel a thing. It’s like being electronically pick-pocketed without any contact. The cash and credit cards stay in your possession but your money is disappearing. Maybe online shopping or cash is safer after all.
Is This a Legitimate Concern?
I was wallet-shopping recently and the salesperson told me that the merchandise I was checking out had something called RFID blocking. I couldn’t tell just by looking at the wallets, and they certainly didn’t feel any different. That’s when my skepticism began.
The store also sold small card-sized sleeves to store credit cards in addition to wallets. Again, these small sleeves just felt like leather or vinyl and they were bendable. There was no sturdy layer and the prices didn’t seem outrageous. However, I was told I needed one.
I asked the salesperson to demonstrate the situation at her cash register since she had a credit card reader, but she wasn’t able to.
She told me that all wallets were now manufactured with RFID blocking protection so everyone should upgrade their wallets. I felt like she was selling bogus protection against a fictional threat.
Who’s the Thief?
Maybe the threat is indeed real with RFID scanning, because for every new technology advancement, there is someone looking for easy money. However, it felt like the vendor was perhaps the one looking to make fast cash.
In any case, each and every wallet I looked at had scanning protection, so I ended up buying one. I have yet to hear about anyone I know being victimized this way, and credit card companies haven’t communicated any burning need to avoid this new crime.
Don’t Leave Yourself Vulnerable to Any Kind of Theft
Whether it’s a legitimate threat or not, if I’m standing in line at a store, or am in other situation, and a stranger – innocent looking or not – stands within my personal space for too long, I’m aware of their presence. Especially if they are fidgeting with some device in their pocket.
Would I approach and question them? No way. I would probably hold my purse a little tighter and make sure it’s closed as I’ve got a bad habit of leaving it unzipped.
When I’m shopping online, I use complex passwords, log out of sites when I’m done and of course read through my statements making sure there aren’t any purchases I didn’t make.
To sum it up, there are thieves everywhere. Online, in the stores and just walking past you on the street. Those plastic bits of convenience allowing you to avoid cash leave you vulnerable whether you’re online or in a boutique.
As we approach the holiday shopping season, be aware and try to stay one step ahead of them. And in case you need any gift ideas, maybe get that special someone a new wallet!
Tax season gives con artists and scammers another way to fleece older adults, preying on their fear of the IRS.
This year is especially dangerous because of the recent Equifax breach that leaked the personal information of at least 143 million Americans.
AARP warns us of the top two tax scams that are making headlines this year – tax identity theft and the IRS imposter scam.
To protect your older adult’s hard-earned savings, learn about these financial scams against seniors. Then, educate your older adult on the dirty tricks that fraudsters are using so they’ll be on the lookout.
We summarize how these two scams work and recommend trusted sources where you can get help and updates on the latest scams.
Scam 1. Tax identity theft
Tax identity theft is when personal information is stolen and used to apply for a fraudulent tax refund.
A scammer could file a tax return using your older adult’s Social Security number, claim them as a dependent, or claim a tax refund using a deceased family member’s information.
To avoid tax identity theft:
Don’t give out personal information unless you know who’s asking for it and why they need it
Do mail tax returns as early in the tax season as possible before scammers have a chance
Do shred personal and financial documents
Do know your older adult’s tax preparer
Do check the status of your older adult’s refund after filing at the official IRS website: irs.gov/Refunds
For help or more information, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 or visit irs.gov/identitytheft.
Scam 2. IRS imposter scam
Con artists also call people on the telephone and claim to be IRS employees. If they were to call your older adult, they’d say that they owe money for their taxes and make all kinds of scary threats.
AARP also created this helpful video that illustrates how these scams might sound – and shows the “behind the scenes,” how scammers are lying through their teeth.
IRS imposter scammers might:
Threaten to arrest or deport your older adult if they don’t pay
Know all or part of their Social Security number
Fake the caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from the IRS
Tell older adults to put the money on a prepaid debit card or gift card and tell the scammer the card number
Real IRS agents will never do these things
When running their tax scams, con artists are doing many things that real IRS agents would never do.
Real IRS agents would never:
Call to demand immediate payment for taxes owed without first sending a notification by mail
Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone
Ask for payment via gift card
Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to make an arrest for nonpayment
If you or your older adult have any doubts about someone claiming to be from the IRS, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.
If you’ve heard about an attempted scam or think your older adult may have been scammed, call the IRS helpline for advice at 1-877-908-3360.
Get the latest info about scams from trusted sources
If you have any concerns about your older adult’s tax return or think a con artist might be trying to scam them, there are two trusted, reputable sources where you can get more information.
The IRS posts information about the latest scams here on their website. For questions about an IRS notice, call them directly at 1-800-829-1040. Additional IRS contact information is also posted here.
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network
The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a trustworthy place to get helpful information on scams targeting seniors. You can also get help from their call center at 1-877-908-3360.
The Fraud Watch Network covers a wide range of scams and shares useful tips range from keeping debit and credit information safe to staying safe on social media – and everything in between.
As April approaches, many think of spring in bloom, April showers, and maybe even Opening Day for baseball season, but there’s no denying it and no avoiding it, tax time is here as well. For some, April can be a time of frustration and even fear, especially if the documents necessary for tax filing are disorganized, misplaced, or simply missing. Unfortunately, for many seniors, tax time is not only stressful, but also prime time for financial scams aimed directly at them.
Our goal at Senior Lifestyle is to share valuable information that impacts seniors, and with that in mind, we’ve compiled several tips from the Internal Revenue Service as well as AARP to help senior loved ones avoid falling prey to fraud during tax season.
THE IRS IMPOSTOR SCAM
In this sophisticated phone scam, a caller claiming to be an IRS employee will say that you owe taxes. They may use intimidation, threatening you with arrest or deportation if you don’t pay. They may also tell you to put the money on a prepaid debit card and then give them the number on the card. They may also know a fair amount of your personal information, but remember, the IRS DOES NOT call to demand payment over the phone without first sending a bill in the mail. Additionally, the IRS will NOT ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to arrest you for non-payment. According to the IRS, “Thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams. Scammers use the regular mail, telephone, or email to set up individuals, businesses, payroll and tax professionals.” The Internal Revenue Service also notes that the IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.
If you have any doubts about whether a contact was authentic, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040. Or, if you’ve spotted a scam or think you may have been scammed, call the IRS helpline at 877-908-3360 for advice and guidance.
TAX ID THEFT
In this scam, your personal information is stolen for the purposes of filing a fraudulent tax return for the refund. It can involve filing a fraudulent return with another person’s Social Security number, claiming someone else’s children as dependents, or claiming a tax refund using a deceased taxpayer’s information.
To avoid tax identity theft:
Do mail tax returns as early in the tax season as possible before the scammers beat you to it.
Don’t give out personal information unless you know who’s asking for it and why they need it.
Do shred personal and financial documents.
Do know your tax preparer.
Do check the status of your refund after filing at gov/Refunds
For help, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 and visit irs.gov/identitytheft.
Tax time is stressful enough without becoming the victim of fraud, so take precautions to avoid scammers and warn senior loved ones of the signs of fraud during tax season. To learn more about Senior Lifestyle and our commitment to those we serve, please visit our website at www.seniorlifestyle.com.
Tell us about a specific time when the nominee went above and beyond day-to-day responsibilities and demonstrated an exceptional commitment to residents.
One example of Theresa’s dedication to our residents occurred in July of 2018 when our community was forced to partially evacuate our residents due to an explosion that occurred down the road from our community. While we were loading residents into waiting buses, Theresa was a consummate professional, guiding families who were taking their loved ones for the evening, directing and assisting residents, and offering support where needed. Not only did she find ways to comfort and console our residents during the evacuation by providing a listening ear and calm reassurance, she also stayed at the community until all residents were able to be returned to their apartments. Theresa’s strength under pressure, her calm demeanor and her caring spirit made a scary situation much less stressful.
Provide an example of actions taken or attitudes displayed by the nominee that have enhanced residents’ quality of life. Be specific.
Theresa’s unique ability to see past a person’s diagnosis is by far her most admirable quality. Theresa has found ways to draw upon her special education background to personalize techniques that allow our residents to feel successful, proud, and accomplished. Theresa has a knack for addressing even the most difficult challenging behaviors with an open mind, a sense of humor, and a thoughtful and insightful strategy. Theresa loves to know everything about her residents in order to find a connection; this helps her to further develop her strategy for success.
Provide an example of how the nominee has been a positive influence on residents and/or fellow staff.
Theresa’s calm demeanor and confidence are especially valuable when new team members join our team. Theresa takes new team members under her wing and teaches them ways of providing care that respect the dignity and individuality of each resident, giving them valuable tips and tools to help our residents and team members succeed.
What do you consider to be the nominee’s greatest WOW factor? Provide an example in which this was demonstrated.
Theresa has used her background in special education to provide support and encouragement not only to her residents and peers, but to potential prospects and their family members as well. Theresa has toured families through our memory care neighborhood several times when they have visited unannounced. She has discussed how she utilizes her expertise in creating a calm, structured, and dementia-friendly environment for our residents. She listens closely and presents the benefits of our memory care environment in a confident and poised, yet relaxed and welcoming way that immediately takes away the anxiety of moving a loved one into a memory care community. Theresa makes all of us say, “WOW!”
Tell us how the nominee has advanced the mission and goals of the community.
Theresa’s dedication to our residents’ quality of life has been a living embodiment of both our mission: “residents first in everything we do” and our foundational belief that “all seniors deserve to live life on purpose”. Theresa’s attention to the small details that make our residents who they are allows her to develop a deeply genuine and trusting relationship with our residents. Her inquisitive nature, keen eye for detail, and outgoing personality have brought out the true spirit of each resident in her care, going beyond the diagnosis and finding the person within.
Give an example of how the nominee has positively influenced/impacted the overall community culture and/or the community-at-large.
Theresa’s influence has been an inspiration to many of us at our community. Despite the fact that Theresa works in a very demanding full-time job, she always presents a professional and kind demeanor when she is at our community. Her energy level is unparalleled, her warmth unmatched, and the only thing bigger than her heart is her smile. Theresa’s dedication to our residents and her enthusiasm for our mission of service have positively impacted our memory care community in many ways. She is a role model for other team members and a servant leader. We are truly blessed to have someone of this caliber in our ranks!
Here are three scams that are notably making the rounds.
Beware of Social Security spoofing calls
There’s been a significant uptick in fraudulent telephone calls from people claiming to represent the Social Security Administration (SSA). In them, unknown callers threaten victims that they face arrest or other legal action if they fail to call a provided phone number or press the number indicated in the message to address the issue. Sometimes the scammers switch tactics and say that they want to help an individual activate a suspended Social Security number. They may even “spoof” the actual Social Security hotline number to appear on the recipient’s phone: 1-800-772-1213.
If you receive one of these calls, hang up. Know that Social Security rarely contacts persons by phone unless you have ongoing business with them and they never make threats about arrest or legal action.
The grandparent scam has been around for several years. In this approach, a person calls an older adult pretending to be a grandchild who’s been involved in an accident or legal trouble and needs money immediately.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that instead of using wire transfer or gift cards, an increasing number of older adults are mailing cash to these fraudsters, with a median individual loss of $9,000. According to reports, the scammers often ask seniors to divide the bills into envelopes and place them between the pages of a magazine, then send them using various carriers, including UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service.
The FTC warns that if you or a loved one receives one of these calls, don’t act right away. Call that grandchild back on a correct phone number and verify their whereabouts. If you’ve mailed cash, report it right away to the Postal Service or shipping company you used. Some people have been able to stop delivery by acting quickly and giving a tracking number. Be sure to also file a complaint to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.
Only work with reputable agencies after a natural disaster
Wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes—these unpredictable forces of nature can be devastating to those living in affected areas. Even those not directly affected may want to lend support in whatever way they can.
Unfortunately, natural disasters are a golden opportunity for scammers, who target both those who’ve been directly affected and those who want to offer their support. Natural disaster scams typically start with unsolicited contact by telephone, social media, e-mail, or in person. Scammers may:
Impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-meaning consumers.
Set up fake websites with names that mimic legitimate charities to trick people into sending money.
Pretend to be from the IRS and collect personal information under the guise of helping victims file loss claims and get tax refunds.
To find reputable charities to support victims of natural disasters, use the IRS’s tax exempt organization search or look for an organization’s charity rating on places such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator.
Older persons are easy victims of fraud, identity theft, and internet schemes. Old age, trouble seeing and/or hearing and a failing memory are just some reasons thieves target seniors, and What senior can resist a call from a grandchild, even if it’s a desperate plea for money? The grandparent scam is a common way for a thief to get money. The thief poses as a grandchild who is sick, injured, stranded, or in trouble or in dire need of extra funds. Grandma wires the money – a few thousand dollars or more – without giving it a second thought.
Hired home caregiver can also commit fraud easily, especially if there is no one else in the home, because they have easy access to an elderly person’s personal information. The more an elderly person depends on the caregiver, the more opportunity there is for dishonesty. A caregiver who does the banking, shopping, and pays monthly bills is likely to have access to the elder’s credit or debit cards, passwords and PIN numbers.
The same goes for workers in an adult daycare facility or assisted living complex. Even though each staff member is screened and undergoes a background check, there is still the opportunity for a caregiver to turn dishonest, especially during desperate times.
Robbery of an elderly person is sometimes a matter of opinion. It’s not uncommon for the general public to read or hear stories of how an elderly person – particularly an elder diagnosed with dementia – lost his life savings by signing over huge sums of money to a church or charity. In an independent or dependent living situation, it would be relatively easy to steal jewelry, personal valuables and credit cards from an aging person. If the elderly person suffers from dementia or a debilitating mental condition, then he or she might readily turn over personal information, allow the use of a credit card, or write a check to a “thief” without hesitation.
Thieves can also get into a home through bogus online websites. A thief may call on the phone and pose as government service agent or representative of any organization popular with elderly persons. A thief might pose as a salesman at the door, a telemarketer on the phone, or a visitor from a church. A thief could even be a trusted aid that works closely with the older person. Before discussing the methods to prevent old people from becoming victims of the fraud, let us first discuss some common types of frauds.
There are numerous scams that target elderly persons. A senior may fall victim to a foreign lottery scam, sending a fee and personal info to the distributor in exchange for a big prize that doesn’t exist. The home repair scam is probably one of the oldest con games in the book, but people of all ages still fall for it. This is particularly true after a hurricane or some other disaster when folks need home repairs and are in a hurry to get everything back to normal. Other scams that lure elderly victims:
The Internet. The ease and speed of ordering practically anything online increases the chances of getting scammed.
Telemarketing. Phony telemarketers advertise a product or service, but the goods don’t exist. The caller is actually phishing for personal information and/or credit card info.
The U.S. Post Office isn’t exempt from scam artists and con games. Tons of phony offers and pleas for help are delivered daily to unsuspecting customers.
Phony charities with names that sound authentic rake in millions of dollars from victims who let sympathetic emotions cloud good judgment.
Black Widow Scams
Because anyone can fall in love – and make a mistake, another way thieves get money from older people is the black widow scam. The con artist preys on lonely – and wealthy – widows (and widowers) by striking up a close friendship or intimate relationship. The scheme of spending and investing goes on until the victim has lost all savings and assets. But that’s not always the end of the story; an elder may unintentionally give out information about his or her family members – personal information that could end up with one or more relatives becoming a victim of identity theft.
How Black Widow Scams Work
A black widow scam artist can be a stranger or he might even be a former acquaintance – an old classmate or colleague, for example. Elder law experts say black widow thieves may take advantage of a single opportunity to get rich, or the con artist may be a repeat offender – a calculating criminal that is capable of doing anything to get the money he wants. Shown below is a general idea of how black widow thieves operate.
A stranger (or acquaintance from the past) grabs an opportunity and casually introduces himself to the elderly person. The thief might even pose as a widow or widower to hook the interest and compassion of the victim. A professional thief knows his victim’s background, weaknesses, and medical ailments. He has already done his homework and he knows there is money to be had.
As the “relationship” builds, the thief offhandedly begins to ask personal questions – in a charming way, of course – about family, finances, and who manages the accounts. If there is a caregiver or family member keeping tabs on the finances, then the thief may gently suggest that it’s not wise to allow someone else to be in control, and that the money is “not theirs.”
The thief usually pretends to be in love. That much established, he’ll do whatever it takes, claiming he has proof that the elderly person is being robbed by his/her family. He may even provide phony paperwork, fake bank statements, and he may present photos of the family shopping at the mall or supposedly spending (the victim’s) money in some other lavish way.
The thief finally convinces the elderly person that he or she needs to cut ties with meddling family members. He suggests the two of them should live together as a couple.
Swayed by romance and convinced the new lover may be right, the elderly person complies. It’s only a matter of time before the senior’s savings and assets are depleted by the con artist. Once the money is gone, so is the thief.
Clues that Point to a Black Widow Scam
Black widow scams can happen to anyone, even a victim who has no money and no family. Caregivers, family, even friends and neighbors are warned to look for clues that might point to a friend or loved one involved in a black widow scam:
A stranger or former acquaintance suddenly takes a special interest in an elderly or disabled loved one.
The new person offers a chance to get into a sure-fire money-making deal, but needs money up front to get started and promises to pay it back.
The new person is overly anxious to live together, buy a home or condo, or get married.
The scammer takes out a hefty life insurance policy on the victim – this may happen to the elderly or disabled person who has little or no money, no savings, and no family.
The scammer wants to have joint bank accounts, or feels he should have access to accounts, using the excuse: “In case something should happen to you.”
The scam artist wants the victim to update his will – and wants to be the executor.
The scam artist spends money lavishly, shopping, dining, and taking trips – often without the victim. He makes financial decisions without the victim’s knowledge.
As the money and assets dwindle, the scammer loses interest in the relationship and leaves.
Black widows cleverly gain access to life insurance policies, wills, bank accounts, and anything else of value that the victim owns. Family members may also become victims just by associating with the new “best friend” or “lover” in their loved one’s life. Caregivers and family are warned to look for clues of black widow activity.
Medicare provides the means for basic medical care for elderly persons and individuals with disabilities who qualify. Each year, Medicare participants have the option to choose or update a medical plan to suit current and projected needs. Participants pay premiums for the coverage. But choosing the right Medicare coverage isn’t the only serious issue faced by seniors. Medicare fraud costs Americans millions of dollars annually.
Who commits Medicare fraud? Is it really that important to check the accuracy of a Medicare billing statement? How are lost Medicare funds recovered?
Medicare fraud occurs when a group or individual tries to cheat the Medicare system by billing for services not rendered to a patient. Personal information passes through the hands of numerous health care providers, medical suppliers and insurance business staff. Because so many people are involved with the paperwork, it is difficult to pinpoint a thief. Personal information easily accessed by medical employees includes, but is not limited to:
The victim’s address, driver’s license number and phone number
Social Security number
Credit card information (Paying for co-payments, share of cost and services not otherwise covered by insurance or government Medicaid/Medicare programs.)
Insurance carrier, Medicaid or Medicare information
Business office employees working in a medical facility, hospital or doctor’s office have access to the information listed above from hundreds, or even thousands, of patient files. But that’s not all. Pharmacy workers also have access to the same information and so do various staff members at medical supply companies. While most medical staff workers are honest, there are those who are not.
What better group to target – and rob – than the elderly population on Medicare. Elderly people usually have a list of ailments that warrant continuing and multiple medical treatments. An elderly client may use medical devices, take multiple drugs and/or use extended services. Aging seniors are also likely to have memory problems – may have difficulty recalling all the medical attention received at a given time.
It is unlikely that a hospitalized elderly person could recall every detail of the services rendered, especially if it was a long-term stay. A family member who assumed the job of caregiver may not be able to account for everything on the Medicare billing statement either, unless she kept a detailed journal. Patients and families put their trust in medical staff, believing such professionals can do no wrong.
Thieves do count on medical reputation. They also count on elderly persons having a poor memory. They count on distraught family members not taking the time or effort to record details of services the patient received. Regardless of the emotional circumstances, however, it is very important to keep a record for the purpose of checking the accuracy of the Medicare billing statement.
Frauds in Nursing Home
Advanced medical care and safety issues were probably two determinants in relocating the elderly person. Most people – even family members – wouldn’t consider the risk of a scam in a nursing home. However, any elderly person living in a nursing home or assisted care facility could become a victim of a scam operation. Placing an aging parent or elderly loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility doesn’t guarantee protection against scams and fraud activity.
How Does a Thief Get Information to Plan a Grandparent Scam?
Read the newspaper and see how much family information is included in the average obituary (especially the paid versions). But death notices are only the beginning. A scammer could be someone who lives in the neighborhood – particularly the person who seems to know everybody’s business. An amateur thief would have no trouble at all gaining the facts he needs to pull off a grandparent con job. Check out a sample list of ways a thief can get family information:
Ancestry websites. Dating sites and sites where one can look up old schoolmates provide names, ages, employment and all sorts of information that a scamming thief would find useful.
Chat rooms online. Anyone who has ever visited a chat room knows the amount of information that usually flies about.
Social sites online. Family and friends post all kinds of information on social websites. Thieves look for clues that tell them if the elderly person lives alone and if he or she has a fat bank account.
Conversations overheard at work. A newly-hired young associate may be flipping burgers and eavesdropping on other employee conversations. Her ears perk up when she hears the manager describing to another employee how her grandma may be getting on in years, but she’s got plenty of money to spend on another luxury cruise.
College dorm students. A thief who’s living among students for months at a time is able to learn all kinds of personal and family information, including whose grandparents have money. He notes a student’s nickname. He listens when a student complains that grandpa can’t remember family names.
How Can Caregivers Help Elderly Parents Avoid a Grandparent Scam?
A caregiver son or daughter can warn an elderly parent(s) about the risk of losing money in a grandparent scam. It may be tough to convince the older family member that a thief could fool grandma or grandpa so easily. Caregivers can also encourage elderly loved ones not to feel embarrassed and to come forward to report the crime should one become a victim of a grandparent scam. A caregiver can inform close family members as to how a grandparent scam works.
Advise the elderly person to avoid volunteering information over the phone that a scammer could use to “fill in the blanks”. Ask the elder to check with a trusted family member before wiring any money. Remember too, that money transfers can be picked up at any service location (such as Western Union) as long as the thief/recipient has the confirmation number.
Caregivers can help stop an elder from becoming a fraud victim by monitoring phone calls, screening mail for suspicious offers and keeping a watchful eye on bank accounts. A caregiver can question home repairs and methods of payment. A well-informed caregiver also knows every detail of the elder’s medical plan and insurance. It pays to stay informed and aware, not only to protect the individual, but also to protect the home, savings and assets belonging to the elderly loved one. Following are some useful tips that can help avoiding scams:
Toss into the trash (or delete online) any offers for medical products or drugs that may be of particular interest to an elderly person.
Do business with trusted drug companies and medical supply companies that routinely handle the elderly person’s needs.
Check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) before dealing with any new company that offers products to older persons.
Decline offers from salesperson selling elder care products door-to-door.
Keep close tabs on the elder’s financial accounts; look for suspicious activity that may indicate a scam.
Be leery of persons seeking charitable contributions. Elders often lose sight of priorities, giving away money to charities and causes that don’t exist.
Be leery of strangers offering home repairs, yard work or any service that an elderly might need – and can now afford with that extra money sent by the government.
Thieves gather private information from medical records – information that can be used to clean out bank accounts, get a passport, and access health care services. In the most extreme situation, a patient’s stolen identity might even be used by terrorists. It’s imperative that identity theft be reported immediately. Anyone who’s ever been to a doctor, health care facility or clinic knows the patient has to complete at least a moderate amount of paperwork. Private information is collected for insurance and billing purposes and is placed in an online patient file. Personal information usually includes, but is not limited to, a social security number, residence information, insurance carrier, credit card numbers used for co-payments and employment details.
From the moment the patient hands over his personal information, he is at risk for medical identity theft. Unfortunately, the computer that stores the medical information may not have the best security safeguards in place. Sometimes, the information is stolen before it’s put on the computer.
What Groups are Most Vulnerable to Medical Identity Theft?
Anyone can become a victim of medical identity theft. Persons profoundly disabled (such as mentally impaired) and elderly persons too frail to manage their own health care affairs are especially vulnerable. The persons in these groups have to rely on family members and/or paid caregivers to fill out medical forms and take care of medical business affairs.
When a medical billing statement arrives in the mail, it’s not always easy for a caregiver or even a family member to determine if the printed statement of services rendered is correct. Paid caregivers often work in shifts and communication between workers may not be as good as it should be. As a result, the patient may end up paying for services not rendered – or may pay for services “stolen” by a thief in need of medical care.
What’s more, medical identity theft can also lead to altered medical records. This is a dangerous situation for the theft victim. Why? If the thief receives medical care by using information stolen from a victim’s file, the act may comprise the victim’s own treatment and his ability to get future services. The insurance company won’t cover the losses. A medical theft victim may have to pay to keep his health insurance or may end up paying higher premiums to restore the coverage.
How to Avoid Frauds Targeting Elderly People
Avoiding Black Widow Fraud
Family members can fight back against black widows, but most are professionals at what they do. A black widow con artist may be very hard to expose until caught red-handed. Senior citizens, family, friends, and caregivers are urged to watch for clues that may point to a black widow scam and report concerns immediately before it’s too late. If exploitation is suspected, family members may consult the National Center on Elder Abuse for a listing of each state’s abuse directories and hotline numbers. Provided by the NCEA Web site, information and referral is also available from the national Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging. Call toll-free 1-800-677-1116.
Romance has a way of clouding or distorting a person’s judgment, no matter what the age. Family members and/or caregivers should be prepared for resistance from their aging loved one when suspicions or accusations of fraud and wrongdoing are put out in the open. If the elderly person stubbornly refuses to believe he or she is being victimized, then the family caregiver may have no recourse than to petition for conservatorship to protect the elderly loved one’s money and assets. Unfortunately, this can be a rough undertaking and the court process is both lengthy and emotional.
Avoiding Medicare Fraud
To avoid Medicare fraud, caregivers and senior should follow these steps.
Keep a journal or log of every detail of care or treatment rendered, including outpatient services.
Ask questions. A patient (or appointed family caregiver) has a right to know everything that’s being done to and for the patient, and why.
Know what services Medicare will pay for and what is not covered.
Compare Medicare billing statements with the recorded information to see if the billed services match.
Report Medicare fraud to your State Medical Assistance Office, or contact a representative at the national number: 1-800- 447-8477.
Besides these steps, seniors and caregivers should consider attending The Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) Program. The program educates and empowers people with Medicare to take an active role in detecting and preventing health care fraud and abuse. There is a Senior Medicare Patrol Program in every U.S. state, the District of Columbia, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The program offers counseling to Medicare participants and can provide information about area community events.
Preventing Identity Theft of an Elderly Person
What can family members or the primary caregiver do to prevent a thief from gaining information and access to a loved one’s personal and financial information? The best course of action is to plan ahead; specifically, the elderly person is advised to assign a trusted family member or friend with durable power of attorney to manage affairs in the event the elder can no longer take care of such matters.
For the elderly person who cannot manage his affairs, a primary caregiver may want to seek conservatorship to protect the loved one’s assets. Otherwise, encourage the aging loved one to take action if he or she is able to maintain control of financial affairs:
Opt out of credit card solicitation and stop getting all those pre-approved credit card offers. (Be sure to shred the offers that have already arrived.)
Take advantage of the credit freeze law so a crook can’t use personal information with a stolen Social Security number and he (or she) cannot access credit files to open a new account(s).
During the emotional time of death, no one – except perhaps a thief – would think of ID theft of the deceased person. Robbery after death is yet another valid reason caregivers and family members, as well as competent elderly persons, are urged to plan ahead to protect finances and estate matters to prevent criminal activity. Secure ID and financial protection now, so that a difficult time won’t turn into an extended tragedy.
Protecting a Patient Against Medical ID Theft
There are steps a caregiver (parent, family member, etc.) can take to protect a vulnerable patient against medical identity theft. Most of the suggestions are easy to follow. Besides paying attention to medical bills and statements of service, what else can a caregiver do to prevent patient ID theft?
Suggest to health care providers that patients should have to show a photo ID at appointments.
Caregivers are urged to keep a journal of all medical treatments for the patient to match against incoming medical statements and bills for services. Include names, dates, service codes, etc.
Keep all statements, bill records and correspondence letters in a file for easy access.
Communicate with the insurance company and question anything that appears suspicious.
Check with the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Trans Union and Experian) for medical or other activity not authorized by or for the patient.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website has posted an informative page titled, “Facts for Consumers” (2010). Caregivers and anyone else can find detailed information on how to detect medical identity theft.
Know how to get help for medical identity theft. Start with guidance from the FTC’s Identity Theft Site.
Elderly Victims of Scam Operations Urged to Share Their Stories
Yes, it’s embarrassing for the seniors to tell others that instead of making a little extra money to supplement their monthly retirement income, they became the victim of a scam. What’s worse is that at their age they should have known better, right? Not necessarily, but that’s not the issue here. What’s done is done and there is no way to change what’s happened.
However, there is a way to make something good of a bad situation. How do you do that? Tell..
The FBI’s Common Fraud Schemes webpage provides tips on how you can protect yourself and your family from fraud. Senior citizens especially should be aware of fraud schemes for the following reasons:
Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.
Telemarketing Fraud for Seniors
If you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations. For more information and tips to avoid these scams please visit the Telemarketing Fraud webpage.
Imagine this. You have just come home from the park with your grandkids. As your 3-year-old granddaughter plays on the floor with her toys and your 8-year-old grandson reads at the table, you receive a phone call.
Your heart skips a beat when you hear who is on the other end of the line. It’s the IRS and they are calling to tell you that they haven’t received your tax payment.
Always skeptical, you ask for their title and badge number and they respond without hesitation. The man on the phone seems confident and professional.
In the background, your granddaughter is starting to get fussy and the man on the phone is becoming increasingly insistent. If you don’t take care of the bill today, they are going to have to send the Sherriff to your house with a warrant.
As the conversation continues, the “agent” insists that you pay the full amount now, via prepaid card or credit card.
Now, reading this, it’s easy to see the scam for what it is. But, in the heat of the moment, with two grandkids playing (or fighting) in the background and a high-pressure scam-artist on the phone, you might not be so lucky!
How to Tell When the Tax Man is Not the Tax Man
Of course, we all take our tax obligations seriously. But, we also don’t want to be taken advantage of. So, here are a few things that the IRS will never do (according to their own website):
Ask you over the phone for immediate payment of your taxes. They will also send you a letter before contacting you.
Claim that you have no right to question the amount that you owe.
Ask for your credit card details – or for you to pay via pre-paid card – over the phone
Threaten you with arrest or other immediate consequences
Senior scams are a big deal and they are impacting consumers and businesses alike. But, if we all stay vigilant, we can put scammers in their place.
Professions Now Being Targeted by IRS Scammers Too
Nor are these scammers limiting themselves to consumers. There are even several new scam emails targeting tax professionals. Here are a few examples, courtesy of the IRS:
“Happy new year to you and yours. I want you to help us file our tax return this year as our previous CPA/account passed away in October. How much will this cost us?…hope to hear from you soon.”
“Please kindly look into this issue, A friend of mine introduced you to me, regarding the job you did for him on his 2017 tax. I tried to reach you by phone earlier today but it was not connecting, attach is my information needed for my tax to be filed if you need any more Details please feel free to contact me as soon as possible and also send me your direct Tel-number to rich (sic) you on.”
In both cases, the goal of the scammers is to get the tax professional to click on a link that will install malware on their computer. If they are successful, they will steal the tax professional’s clients’ data, which they can use in additional scams.