Elderly victims lose close to $3 billion annually in scams as per a Federal Trade Commission report. In all likelihood, the number is even higher as a sizeable percentage of fraud is not even reported by senior citizens owing to the shame and embarrassment associated with being conned. What makes it gloomier still is that the scammed older adults have far limited chances of rebounding from a loss and the scam may end up having a devastating impact on their post-retirement life.
Identity theft enables a big chunk of that $3 billion con industry. While it is a threat to all age groups, it is a no-brainer why seniors are the most vulnerable and attractive targets to fraudsters:
• They are financially sound as compared to their younger counterparts, have good savings, decent credit scores, and often own homes.
• Older adults or baby boomers, a term often used to refer to the generation born between 1946 and 1964, were brought up to be more trusting and polite. Scammers know this fact very well and use (or abuse) it to their advantage.
• Senior citizens are also less likely to report scams or seek help because they feel embarrassed to be thought of as being unable to attend to their financial affairs independently. Another reason for the low reporting rate is cited to be the lack of knowledge of reporting procedures.
How are Frauds Committed?
According to FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, scammers and con artists use a plethora of methods to defraud their elderly victims for financial gain. Some of those are the following:
• Relative Scam: Relatives capitalize on the unconditional trust placed on them by their elderly victims to con them out of their money.
• Media Scam: Fraudulent advertisements lure gullible older adults into investing in scam schemes.
• Home Renovation / Repair Scam: Fraudsters charge homeowners for repair and renovation services in advance and vanish into thin air.
• Sweepstakes/Charity/Lottery Scam: Impostors gain the victim’s trust by claiming to work for charity, then emotionally blackmail them for donations. They also sometimes claim that their victim has won a foreign lottery or sweepstake and they now need to submit a small “fee” to collect it.
• Government Rep Impostor Scam: Con artists posing as government employees tell the victims they owe the government money and ask for a quick payment, failing which they may be arrested.
• Grandchild Scam: Crooks sometimes approach senior citizens via email or social media posing as their child or grandchild in dire financial straits and in need of immediate relief.
• Tech Support Scam: Tech support reps con their way into the victim’s computer to gain access to their sensitive personal information.
• Romance / Friendship Scam: Senior scams are also conducted through dating websites or social media where scammers pose as interested romantic partners or friends to leech them off their money.
How to Defend Yourself Against them:
The first step in the right direction is to be aware of the many ways you might be targeted as a senior citizen. Now that we have enlisted some of the scams and you understand how they usually work, the next step is to take solid actions in your defense.
• Identify a scam: If you notice something suspicious about a proposition, google it up. If people have been scammed by the same entity earlier, they will have posted information about their experience.
• Avoid the scammer: Stop communicating with or responding to the scammer once you have identified them as suspicious.
• Slow things down: Government officials do not call you to make immediate payments – only extortionists and scammers do that. If you feel pressured into immediate action, take a deep breath and slow down instead. Call the police if you feel threatened. Just do not let scammers capitalize on the false sense of urgency.
• Beware of unsolicited interactions: Do not open emails from unknown senders or click on suspicious attachments. Despite the tendency to trust strangers, you need to evaluate every unsolicited interaction in the virtual or real world cautiously and objectively. Your compassion does not need to turn into your biggest regret.
• Guard your personal information: Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is meant to be confidential and must not be communicated to unverified entities. If you feel an unknown caller is being too pushy about getting your social security number or any other personally identifiable information, hang up on him/her remorselessly.
• Have a reputable and up-to-date anti-virus installed: Your devices must have up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware protections.
• Block popups while surfing the internet: Popups are the prime tools used by hackers to spread malicious software. If you see a pop-up on your screen, immediately disconnect from the internet and shut down the affected device. Enable popup blockers to avoid accidental clicks.
How to Report a Scam/ Identity Theft Attempt:
If you suspect your PII has been compromised, report it to any of the National Credit Bureaus and place a credit freeze; this will prevent scammers from opening accounts in your name. Also visit FTC’s website for identity theft victims which will walk you through streamlined checklists, guide you through pre-fill forms and letters, customize a recovery plan for you and track and update its progress.
You also need to contact the FBI immediately. The FBI generally assigns a Victim Specialist in cases of older adult financial exploitation who will guide you about the subsequent judicial process and keep you updated on your case.
In order to help the FBI do their best in finding the culprit, include as many details in your report as you possibly can. Important information mostly includes the name of the scammer/entity, dates and methods of communication, contact numbers, websites, email addresses used by the scammer, and payment details (including names of the financial institutions involved, account names and account numbers).
Obviously, you can only do this if you have those details saved with you so it is important to back up your emails, faxes and communication logs to avoid unintended deletion in a routine system cleanup.
Just remember you are in control as long as you are aware, calm and prudent. The old adage, “knowledge is power” is quite spot on when it comes to preventing, as well as dealing with the aftermath of identity theft.