Scammers will take advantage of anyone that they can, and oftentimes that means the elderly. On Friday, December 13th, the Pine Bluffs Senior Center hosted Edward Jones’ Natalie Collins and Sarah O’Donnell in an attempt to educate locals on some of the scams that are out there. Getting taken advantage of is awful at any time of year, but sometimes the holidays can make it even worse.
Edward Jones estimates that as many as 145 million people have their identities stolen each year. For the elderly, that means that one out of every twenty are victims of financial abuse, and as discussed in a previous article, only about one in every forty cases is even reported. Oftentimes for the elderly there is fear that if the abuse is reported then there will be a possibility of appearing as though they are incapable of caring for themselves. There can also be an embarrassment factor, as many as 90 percent of elderly individuals are scammed by someone that they trust.
There is one scam that is fairly common in our area, and that is the collection fraud. Many of us have received this call. This scam typically plays upon a persons fear and possible ignorance of the law. A person who claims to be an agent of the IRS will call and tell the receiver that they owe back taxes and that if there is not a payment made immediately then an officer will be dispatched to your home to arrest you. However, the receiver is in luck because the “agent” is able to take a credit or debit card over the phone. Most important thing to know about this scam is that the IRS will never contact you over the phone. Certified letters are the common form of contact for the government, and no local police will come arrest you, as the IRS is in the federal jurisdiction.
Anther common form of victimization is the grandparent scam. This is usually done by playing on the heart strings of the elder individual. A person calls and claims to be the grandchild of then intended victim. The scammer then tells some story of woe and begs the victim not to “call mom and dad, please just send some cash”. The safest course in this scenario is to ask the “grandchild” if you can call right back, and then call a number that you associate with the grandchild. If there is a legitimate issue there should be no problem with a few extra minutes of waiting.
Finally, in this age of computer dating and online banking there is the sweetheart and the lottery scams. Both can occur online or over the phone, but typically both will target those who are somewhat unfamiliar with computer applications. The sweetheart scam usually begins with a meeting in an online forum that, over time develops into an online relationship. Several attempts to meet will end up cancelled at the last minute, and eventually money problems will get brought up. The victim will often send money to the scammer, and best case they never hear from the scammer again; however, there have been individuals who have lost everything to these internet romances. The lottery scam is much quicker but can be just as devastating. A call or an email is received that claims you have won a cash prize and in order to claim your prize you need only to pay the processing fee. Simply stated, if you have to pay money to win money it’s most likely a scam.
There are several ways that you can protect yourself from those that would go out of their way to take your money. One of the easiest things you can do is never share personal information over the phone, mail, email, or internet unless you are absolutely sure that the request is legitimate. Most companies will never ask for personal information including bank or social security information. If you are getting rid of old paperwork or personal documents make sure to shred them before disposing. Also ensure that you are shredding old bank cards, credit cards, statements, and bank receipts. There are several companies that allow for electronic documents which is a good choice for lowering your paper trail.
Make sure that you never carry your social security card on you, and never have that information printed on your checks. If you choose to keep personal documents at home, make sure that they are in a locked, fireproof secure location. If you keep documents on your computer make sure that you have a good anti-virus protection installed, and do not click on pop-ups or other unsolicited emails. As with any password make sure to avoid using commonly known facts such as a birthday, anniversary, or mother’s maiden name. Try to make passwords as random as possible so they are harder to decipher.
If you find that your accounts have been compromised there are steps you can take to try to restore your assets. First and foremost close any accounts that have been compromised. Notify the fraud departments of any businesses that have fraudulent accounts under your name, and file an ID Theft Affidavit at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft as support to your written statement. Make sure to file a report with local law enforcement to supply validity of your claim to credit bureaus, and finally make sure to get documented proof that any fraudulent accounts are closed.
There will always be thieves in the world, and a few steps taken proactively can save you in the end. If you need more information please visit http://www.consumerfinance.gov or the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov