Listeners of The Scammercast may remember that we did an episode a few months ago in which we played audio from a call my co-host Curtis received from a scammer named “Steve Martin.” It was the usual routine: “This is Steve Martin from the US Department of Treasury, advising you of pending legal action,” blah blah blah.
Well, according to an article in USAToday, good old Steve is back on the job, but with some important new twists for you to be aware of.
Apparently Steve and his scammer buddies are mailing or faxing false tax forms to get people to send money or “verifying their personal information,” according to Luis Garcia, an IRS spokesman in Detroit.
Another interesting twist is a “reloading scam,” in which the crooks are claiming to be from the Federal Trade Commission and offer to “help” you recover money lost in a scam. How thoughtful!!
Often, according to the police in Detroit, the scammers threaten to send out agents to arrest you if you don’t pay and ask you to send the money via a service such as Western Union or a prepaid card. You’ll recall that these 2 tactics are part of our 10 Dead Giveaways for a Scam and immediately indicate you should stop all contact with the caller.
This scam continues to be highly lucrative for the crooks, with the Treasury Department reporting 3052 victims from October 1, 2013 to March 9, 2015 and total losses for the period of $15.5 million, or around $5000 per victim on average. The highest reported loss was $500,000.
Remember: The IRS will not call you to demand immediate payment or tell you to wire money or put it on a prepaid card. The IRS will only send you a bill by mail for back taxes. If you’re not sure, call your tax person or the IRS at 800-829-1040. You can report a suspected tax scam to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484. You can also file a complaint at www.ftc.gov, and be sure to put IRS telephone scam in your comments.
The real Steve Martin was a “wild and crazy guy.” The phony Steve Martin is nothing but a thief perpetrating a wild and crazy scam on the unwary.
I’ve been watching an online continuing education course lately called “Inside the Manipulator’s Mind,” taught by Alan Godwin, PhD. It’s a fascinating and disturbing look at the psychology and interpersonal dynamics of manipulation. I found one part in particular related to protecting seniors from scams, frauds, and financial abuse/exploitation.
Today’s seniors are often a part of what’s been called the “Gentleman’s Generation.” Taught to be polite and gracious to others, this marvelous relational style is sorely lacking in much of today’s social interactions. The problem is, 4 of those basic assumptions of this gentlemanly (and ladylike) style get twisted into manipulation in the hands of ruthless crooks. Let’s take a look at them:
1. “Give people the benefit of the doubt.”
This is a healthy practice with those we love, at least most of the time. It reflects the reality that most people whom we love are trying to do the right thing, but human failings cause all of us to make mistakes sometimes. However, when dealing with a scammer or exploitative family member, this can be dangerous. Beware the overly aggr family member and never give a stranger on the phone or who accosts you in person the benefit of the doubt.
Updated assumption: Give yourself the benefit of your healthy doubt. Use skeptical thinking and don’t blindly trust everyone.
2. “Don’t think bad of people.”
We’re taught that we’re supposed to be kind and loving to people, which is right and good for those we know are reasonable and trustworthy. Not so for potential scammers. Many (maybe most) people we meet are decent folks, not out to hurt anyone, and only wanting to do the right thing and help someone out of a desire to contribute. That’s why it’s essential to remember the 10 Dead Giveaways for a Scam: If someone crosses a line and commits one of the giveaways, it’s time to go on “high alert.” A ripoff is probably about to occur. I’m not recommending paranoia, I’m encouraging positive vigilance for the times we live in.
Updated thinking: Being polite to strangers is good, but keep good boundaries by listening for the Dead Giveaways for a Scam and ending all contact if the person crosses the line.
3. “Treat people like you want to be treated.”
The Golden Rule, cornerstone of society for thousands of years. It’s still good advice overall, but scammers can use it to gather information and steal seniors’ money and identity. Oftentimes crooks will present as the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, as was the case with Bill and his phony sweepstakes scam. This sets up the social norm of reciprocity, meaning that if you do something for me, then I am obliged to do something for you. If a senior follows this norm with an untrustworthy stranger or family member, they can set themselves up for victimization.
Updated thinking: Treat people in ways that are kind and firm. If someone asks for money or personal information of any kind, end the contact. Review the 10 Dead Giveaways for a Scam.
4. “Try to find the good in everyone.”
Again, a good idea for relating to an imperfect but honest spouse or family member. A form of this assumption can show up in the overconfidence bias, in which the potential (or actual) victim can minimize or overlook ways the person might be ripping them off or exploiting them. “Sob stories” are one of the Dead Giveaways, filled as they are with the poor victim’s suffering and attempts to help another person. They may be their grandchild or child, but a scammer is still a scammer.
Updated thinking: Don’t over focus on a person’s good qualities and ignore or downplay the ways they are ripping you off. Pay healthy attention to dishonesty and the presence of manipulation through pressure or guilt.
In many ways it’s sad that the world and people have come to this state of affairs. However, we can be sad and safer at the same time.
Recently the Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White, unveiled a new website designed to inform consumers about investment fraud, with a clear emphasis on prevention through education. The site is full of good information and advice no matter where you live.
The site features a series of videos, including one in Spanish, urging people to take steps such as investigate before they invest and question and verify information. There are also useful, if brief, videos about con artists and some of their tactics, and links to downloadable publications from the North American Securities Administrators Association. One of these clarifies the differences between financial professionals, their fiduciary responsibility (if any), and how they get paid.
Of particular interest is the publication called “Investment Guide for Illinois Consumers.” This 21 page downloadable guide includes much helpful information, and even gives a 2-page guide to taking notes when you talk to your broker. I also appreciated the additional 2 pages on common securities scams.
For those of you who don’t live in Illinois, your state’s Attorney General or Secretary of State is most often the public official whose office is the place to go for help with investment and securities scams. If you have questions or are not sure about something, always remember the third R of scam prevention: Reach Out to Check it Out, no matter where you live.
It struck me as kind of odd.
I was going through my email inbox and saw a Facebook friend request from someone with whom I thought I was already friends. Suspecting something was amiss, I texted my friend, asking her if her Facebook request was legitimate, knowing that people sometimes delete their accounts or inadvertently “defriend” (“unfriend?”) someone, but it could also be a scam.
She replied that yes, we were in fact still FB friends according to her account, so her page must have been “hacked.”
Actually, what happened is called “Facebook cloning,” and it’s more common than you may think. It’s just one of the estimated 850,000 active Facebook scams out there right now.
How it works is that a crook copies the photos and details from the real person’s “about” page and then creates a fake one. Once the phony page is set up they send out messages to the cloning victim’s friends asking for money because they’re in trouble overseas, lost their wallet, etc., etc. The scam uses the FLAGS of sympathy and fear (for the friend’s safety or wellbeing) to get the message recipients to wire money. There have even been reports of scammers blocking the real profile by using the fake account to “report/block” the true page. Sneaky, huh?
Here’s what you do if you get a sketchy friend request from someone you think is already your friend:
By Curtis Bailey, Co-founder of Senior Scam Action Associates and co-host of The Scammercast podcast
I received a panicked call from a dear client of mine last evening. She recently lost her husband and has been slowly developing new routines and friendships. Like so many people over 50, she joined Facebook and has been happily reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. The ability to communicate with people she has not seen in many years is a great way for her to stay connected with people.
Of course, this ability to instantly communicate with others makes Facebook great, but it is also a weakness. Here’s how the scam unfolded. My client received a private message from a person she knew in another town. Thinking nothing of it, my client began an online conversation with the person. They exchanged the normal pleasantries: “Hi, how have you been?” and so on. How many times have we all had this kind of conversation on Facebook or social media?
Here’s where things started to turn ugly. Her friend said that she had won $150,000 from Facebook and another organization and she had seen my client’s name on the Award winner list! Exciting news, right? Hardly… The friend went on to say all my client had to do was “friend” another person who was with Fed Ex and he would give all the details. When my client did that, the person began asking for personal information and requested that she pay a $370 delivery fee to receive an award check. With that, my client did the absolute right thing. She terminated the communication and did not give out any personal information.
This is just another example of the kinds of scams out there on social media these days. Scammers are now spoofing Facebook identities of users’ friends and contacts to extract money from the unsuspecting. If you come across this kind of scam, stop! Terminate the conversation immediately! Do not give out any personal identifying information and never, Never, NEVER give out any financial or bank account information.
Fortunately, my client had her “scam detector” working on high alert and she avoided a potential problem. Unfortunately, many of our seniors do not. Please share this information with the seniors you care about, particularly those that are users of social media. Together, we can “Hammer the Scammers!”
For more information about how to prevent scams and fraud, visit our website at www.scammercast.com where you can subscribe to our podcast. Also, please leave us a note at the website if you have seen this scam or others like it so we can share the information with others.
As we kick off the Summer season, our thoughts turn to beaches, barbecues, and…
While homeowners know that their largest investment can need repairs anytime, it seems that the warmer months are prime time for getting a little work done around the old homestead. Couple that with the possibility of damage from thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes, and you’ve sadly got a prime season for crooked home repair contractors, too. As you may remember from reading my book, my own parents were ripped off by an unscrupulous home repair contractor back in the 1990s to the tune of $60k. I had to hire a consulting engineer to sort out the mess–not good.
I’m happy to report, however, that we have a “friend in the business,” Phae Moore of the National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud and preventcontractorfraud.com. Phae has written a marvelously helpful book, Don’t Even THINK About Ripping Me Off!, to guide people through the many potential pitfalls of hiring a contractor. If you or the elders in your life are thinking about hiring someone to repair or remodel your home, Phae’s book is a must-read. It could possibly save you thousands of both dollars and headaches. It’s full of insider information such as the importance of asking your attorney about the Statute of Repose in your state, which governs how long you have to make a complaint about construction defects after a contractor finishes a job. Who knew? Phae did, and she teaches you what you need to know in an easy-to-read format, full of handy checklists and tips.
I can’t endorse Don’t Even THINK About Ripping Me Off highly enough for anyone planning a home remodeling project, or who may face home repairs. In short, I personally think everyone who owns a home or has seniors who own their homes should buy (and use) this book.
Here’s where you can buy your copy (All of the proceeds go to support the good work of NCPHIF and preventcontractorfraud.com).
To hear our excellent interview with Phae Moore on our podcast, The Scammercast, click here
Do you have a story about a crooked contractor? How did you handle it? Leave us a comment at Scammercast.com or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll spread the word to help others!
The news from Nepal is astounding in its descriptions of the magnitude of death and destruction. Many people are donating to relief organizations, seeking to help out the victims of this tragedy. With a little attention, you can help make sure your donations are doing the most good.
In my presentations I talk about the importance of always doing the choosing, never letting yourself be chosen. This idea applies to charities as well. Remember to donate through organizations you know and trust, such as through your church, temple, or denominational umbrellla organization. An example of this would be through Lutheran World Relief (www.lwr.org).
If you’re not familiar with them, there are 3 great websites which rank charities for their practices and integrity. Take a look at www.charitynavigator.org, or www.guidestar.org. Also be sure to look at give.org, another terrific resource for checking out a charity through the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. Click here for a list of approved charities that meet all 20 BBB charity standards.
Watch out for groups that sound like a real charity, but their name may be slightly different. Check them out on one (or more) of the websites above. Remind the seniors in your life to never to give to charities they don’t know, and don’t give to phone solicitors claiming to be from a charity. Also watch out for email solicitations and dubious or unsecured websites (Secured websites have “https” at the beginning of their web address). Don’t believe it when a caller or a website says “100% of donations go to help the victims. All charities have administrative and fundraising costs, and ideally they are a very low percentage of their total contributions.
We Americans are a vastly generous people. Help your generosity make a real difference with a few simple ideas and steps. You’ll feel good about it, too.
From the Better Business Bureau comes word of a new kind of “grandparent scam:” the phony debt collector.
The scam goes like this: A caller tells you that he or she works for a debt collection company or loan company. The crook claims to be trying to collect on a bad debt or overdue payments on a loan your grandchild (or child) took out. The “collector” is calling you because you are listed as a “responsible party” on the loan. Then they may ask you for your credit card number, ask you to send money via a prepaid card, or wire money through one of the services.
When you tell the person calling you that you won’t pay the debt, he starts threatening your loved one with being arrested, losing their job, or having their driver’s license suspended. This is a version of the new, higher-intimidation tactics the scammers have been using more often lately. Can you hear 3 of the 5 F.L.A.G.S. in there–fear for your loved one, guilt for not helping, and sympathy for your family member? Also notice the Dead Giveaway for a Scam of forcefulness–they’re trying to get you to pay up right away.
The important thing to remember here is that the “debt collector” has no power to do anything of the sort. The so-called “loan” or “debt” probably doesn’t even exist. Nevertheless, here are some steps to take to both respond and reach out:
1. Ask the caller to give you official “validation notice” of the debt: Real debt collectors are legally required to give the information about the debt in writing. The notice must include the amount of the debt, the full legal name of the creditor, and a statement of the debtor’s rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If the “debt collector” won’t give you that information, hang up the phone.
2. Ask for the caller to give you their name, company, street address, and phone number. Then act on the 3rd R of scam prevention–reach out to check it out and confirm that the collection agency is for real.
3. Stop talking to the caller: Once you have their address, you can send a letter demanding that they stop contacting you. By law, real debt collectors must stop calling you if you ask them to in writing.
4. NEVER provide nor confirm any personal information, including bank account numbers or credit card information over the phone unless you have verified the call.
5. Suggest your loved one check their credit report by going to annualcreditreport.com or calling 877-322-8228.
6. Recommend your family member place a credit freeze or fraud alert on their credit report.
7. Report the call to the FTC and your state Attorney General’s office. Many states have their own laws covering debt collection practices in addition to Federal laws.
Maybe it’s the run-up to tax day here in the U.S., or possibly the extensive efforts to spread the word about prevention finally cutting into their profits, but the tax scammers have lately been dramatically increasing the “intimidation factor” with their intended targets. This came to light this week through a phone call from my cousin, Terri.
I’ve written before about the tax impostor scam, with a goofy scammer calling himself “Steve Martin” leaving messages on several friends’ voicemails urging them to “call immediately or face serious consequences.” As you may remember from an earlier episode of The Scammercast, they even called my co-host, Curtis, with his phony pitch. We even played the voicemail on the show!
Now, multiple reports have been coming my way about similar tax scammers heavily increasing the “intimidation factor.” Crooks use fear all the time in their toolbox of dirty tricks, but these calls have them threatening the victim with an officer coming to their home to arrest them and put them in jail for a minimum of 6 months on a federal tax evasion charge. Noteworthy is the allegation that the intended victim (Terri, in this case) had underpaid her taxes for 2012 by about $4000. Naturally a problem from a prior year makes the tax scam evergreen and not subject to expiration when tax day has come and gone.
More intimidating, however, was the way the scammer tried hard to shut down the victims’ questioning of discrepancies in the story with heightened threats of jail time. At one point the scammer said to Terri, “If you reach out to anyone about this you will receive 3 years in jail because you are violating the intent to cooperate.” Reaching out is, of course, the 3rd R of Scam Prevention.
The most frightening part, hands down, was when the scammer told Terri he had her address and verified it to her. He also said he had her cellphone number and could track whether or not she was going to the bank to get the required funds. Thankfully, she called her accountant from her work cellphone, and he told her that the IRS never makes calls like this. He also told her to go to her local police station, which she did, and the police took care of the problem.
Terri was quite shaken by this experience. I spoke with her the night this happened, and I could tell she was astounded at the level of sophistication and the hardball tactics the scammers used to almost get her to send them money. Ominously, this represents a new trend in the crooks’ arsenal of manipulative weapons they use against uninformed and unsuspecting people. As elders and others have gotten more aware of how to defeat them, the criminals evolve their methods.
We have to be better at recognizing it when they ramp up the intensity and respond with effective countermeasures. There were plenty of inconsistencies in the crooks’ story to Terri and the others, including at first having an outdated address for her and not knowing her present zip code. Listen for the things that don’t add up! Remember also:
Don’t fall for the fraudsters’ newest effort to steal from you or the elders you care about. Ignore the intimidation and HAMMER THE SCAMMERS!
Whenever I speak I love to give my audience the most up-to-date information I can. I was recently researching newer scams to share with an audience for a speech I was giving and came across some startling information about the fast-growing world of Facebook scams.
Did you know that presently there are estimated to be over 850,000 active Facebook scams? This information comes from Bitdefender, a leading computer security firm. What’s more, a report from the Pew Research Center for the Internet, Science, and Tech in April of 2014 showed that:
Here are 3 of the top scams on Facebook:
Facebook and other social media sites can be a lot of fun and a great way to keep up with family and friends, but keep the 3 R’s of Scam Prevention with you at all times: Recognize, Respond, and Reach Out.
I’ve said it many times: The scammers are always coming up with new ways of ripping people off. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of computers and the Internet.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t use the Internet or throw out their computers and go back to handling everything by US mail. It IS important to know the risks and what to do about them.
From the blog Krebs on Security comes a new warning about “phishers,” those specialized crooks who try to trick people out of their personal information by sending out emails that seem to be from a legitimate organization such as a bank or credit card company, but which are only ploys to send the victim to a phony website designed to steal their information.
Below is an excerpt from the email notice I received from Krebs on Security:
“In case you needed yet another reason to change the default username and
password on your wired or wireless Internet router: Phishers are sending out
links that, when clicked, quietly alter the settings on vulnerable routers
to harvest online banking credentials and other sensitive data from victims.”
(note for all you non-tech people out there: the router is the box in your home that connects you to the internet)
“The real danger of attacks like this is that they bypass antivirus and other
security tools, and they are likely to go undetected by the victim for long
periods of time.”
It bears repeating: Never click on links in an unsolicited email you receive from an organization such as a financial institution, cable or satellite television provider, or, as was the case in this example, your internet service provider. If you’re not sure, call the company directly. Remember the 3rd R of Scam Prevention: Reach out to check it out.
Read the full post from Krebs on Security here
An old perennial “favorite” in the scam world has been making a comeback lately. Customer service scams have been around, it seems, since the time of the dinosaurs. Okay, maybe not that long, but for years now. From time to time they resurface with a new twist, and here we go again.
This time, according to the folks at the Better Business Bureau, intended targets are receiving emails with subject lines such as “Your reward points are expiring! Claim now!” Many companies, including Walgreen’s and Macy’s, have been spoofed in this way. The unsuspecting shopper at one of the impersonated stores clicks a link in the email.
What happens next is that you find out that you have been “selected to complete a survey about your recent customer experience.” The email says that when you finish the questionnaire you will receive $100 or more in the store’s bonus points. Doesn’t that sound good?
Don’t do it.
If you click the link there are several tricks the scammers are using against you. You may complete a survey alright, but at the end you get the high-pressure tactics to buy junk like diet pills or wrinkle cream. In other versions of this scam the survey asks you for personal information such as banking or credit card numbers (remember: Asking for your personal information is a Dead Giveaway for a Scam). A third dirty trick is that clicking the link downloads malware to your computer.
Always remember: Never click on links that come in unsolicited emails (remember: Never let yourself be chosen, always do the choosing). The sneaky part here is that the email may claim or seem to have information about you. You may not remember that you never signed up for emails from the company. Another Dead Giveaway is the push for urgency, trying to get you to do something before you have time to think. Delete emails that try to get you to act immediately or face a consequence. (See my earlier blog post called Hurry Should Make You Worry). As always, watch for typos, awkward phrases, and bad grammar and hover your mouse over the web address text to see where the link will take you. Legitimate businesses’ web addresses should take you to their official website.
The news arrived just a couple of days ago that the country’s second largest health insurer, Anthem, has been the target of a very large data breach. The news reports say that as many as 80 million people’s information such as names, dates of birth, and Social Security Numbers have been compromised by hackers, likely from China. Thankfully, it appears that no credit card numbers or medical information such as diagnoses were stolen, although the other stolen information is definitely bad enough. This attack is just the latest in a growing trend towards data breaches against health care organizations, with the numbers growing from just 5 in 2010 to 42 in 2014. While seniors 65 and over have Medicare as their primary health insurance, they may have a Medicare Supplement plan through Anthem. Many others age 50 to 64 are covered under the vast array of products sold by Anthem and its subsidiaries.
This is frustrating for me on a personal level, too, because my group had health insurance through Anthem until last December 1, and we have already received notice from our benefits manager that our information has been involved. I noticed that I received a phony email offering me a “good deal” on a medication I don’t take at the email address I used for contacting Anthem. Could be coincidence, but…
Dangers to watch for include “phishing” and phone scams. Remember that “phishing” is when the scammers send out an email that appears to be from a reputable/credible source, in this case Anthem, but which asks you to click on a link in the email or provide personal information such as credit card numbers. The phone scams are similar in nature, asking for your credit card or Social Security numbers (remember also that this is a “Dead Giveaway” for a scam: Asking you for your personal information over the phone or by email).
NOTE: ANTHEM HAS SAID IT WILL NOT CONTACT AFFECTED PEOPLE BY EMAIL OR PHONE, ONLY BY US MAIL.
There have also been increased reports of income tax identity theft lately, including at the state level. While it’s not certain and no one has confirmed this, I have to wonder about the connection between the Anthem breach and the increase in tax identity theft. (For more about tax identity theft, be sure to listen to our most recent podcast episode at Scammercast.com).
Here are 7 Things You Should Do Now:
More information is almost certain to come out in the days ahead, so keep up with the latest news and be proactive in dealing with this mess.
This week has been designated Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week by the Federal Trade Commission, with the intention of raising awareness of this ongoing, rampant scam. There are 2 kinds of tax and IRS related scams to watch out for:
Tax Identity Theft
Tax identity theft is when a scammer files a fraudulent tax return using another person’s social security number and receives the refund electronically. The victim usually doesn’t know they have been a target until they file their own tax return and the IRS tells you that your return has already been filed.
Here are signs of tax identity theft:
Remember these important prevention points:
I’ve been having a lot of fun with my friend and colleague, elder law attorney Curtis Bailey, creating and recording our new podcast, Scammercast. In our second episode, called “Scammer Claus is Coming to Town,” we introduced our listeners to “Steve Martin,” who claimed to be calling Curt from the IRS. We actually played the recording of the voicemail on the show so everyone could hear his voice! If you haven’t had a chance yet, have a listen soon. In a bid to gain more victims through seeming to be credible, scammers are getting more convincing, even giving an IRS badge number to seem more believable and ramp up the fear in their targets.
Remember these important prevention points:
3. Never talk to someone who calls and says they are from the IRS. Instead, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040 to see if you owe taxes.
Iowa recently joined 12 other states in passing a significant piece of legislation for protecting incapacitated or disabled elders from becoming victims of identity theft. The law allows guardians to request a security freeze (or “credit freeze”) on the credit reports and ratings of the individual(s) under their care. According to the Mason City Globe-Gazette, the new law “was established to help prevent identity theft and credit score abuse. The freeze prevents a credit reporting agency from releasing credit report data without consent.” The new law took effect on January 1.
This is such an important step for the adult child of an elder parent with some form of cognitive incapacitation to take. Too frequently a caregiver, worker, or even a family member can take advantage of the situation and open up credit cards, loans, and other forms of credit in the elder’s name. This may go undetected for a long time and cause big, painful problems later on.
I strongly encourage everyone who has an elder parent, as well as those who work with seniors and their families, to remember this step as you put together your scam prevention plan for an impaired parent. To help you with this, click here for a complete list of all 50 states’ laws regarding credit freezes.
I am very committed to the idea that all of us can play a role in helping to prevent our elders from getting ripped off. It can be something simple like asking a couple more questions when you hear your neighbor talking about some sketchy-sounding contest they say they’ve won. It could also be something on the scale of what postal worker Darrel Nance, the Senior Scam Action Associates Hero of the Year for 2014, did for a man in his small town.
Here’s the actual listing on what’s called the Heroes Corner Archive, an online listing of postal employees helping their customers and community members:
“Kahoka, MO, Distribution Clerk Darrel Nance was working at the Post Office when he overheard a police officer talking to the Postmaster about a man who recently mailed $12,000 in cash to a company. He believed he would collect a $2.5 million prize. Nance remembered the man, found the receipts needed to track down the envelopes and gave them to the Postmaster. The Priority Mail envelopes were later intercepted and the money was returned to the man.”
What Mr. Nance did saved an unwitting victim from a serious, potentially devastating financial loss. Losing that kind of money probably would have been very painful, and maybe detrimental to his health and wellbeing. In recognition of his generous regard for another person’s wellbeing, I am making a donation to the National Consumers League in his honor, and sending him a letter of thanks. If you want to nominate someone for the award, email me at email@example.com. Senior Scam Action Associates is my new collaboration with other professionals to counter the increasing number and destructiveness of scams, frauds, and exploitation aimed at seniors.
All of us are busy, but I want to encourage people to look out for our vulnerable elderly the way Mr. Nance did. Who are the elders in your life who may be vulnerable to a scam or fraud? How can you pay just a little more attention to them and help them stay safe? You can be a part of making the world a better place by playing an active role in safeguarding elders from predators.
It’s that time of year again: Time when the turning of the calendar page makes most of us think about improving our lives in some way. While you’re hatching plans for losing those holiday pounds or getting more organized, here are 5 resolutions to help you and the seniors in your life have a scam-free 2015:
1. Have the “scam talk” regularly. Mention to your elders the huge and growing number of scams happening in today’s world, and review best practices such as The 3 R’s of Scam Prevention. Help them keep safety from financial victimization and preserving their resources at the forefront of their thinking and practice. Make paying attention to scams a part of their daily or weekly routine. Remember: We become that which we practice most.
2. Help them place a credit freeze or fraud alert on their accounts. This simple step can stop crooks from opening up new accounts in the elder’s name. Be aware that there is a cost for both placing and removing a freeze (usually $5-$20) and you have to place a credit freeze with each of the credit reporting agencies. For more information see pp. 93-96 in Scammed: 3 Steps to Help Your Elder Parents and Yourself.
3. Keep their computers updated. In case the seniors in your life haven’t heard or haven’t acted on this yet, Microsoft no longer supports good old Windows XP. This means that people running that software are vulnerable to all sorts of threats. Remember that spyware, firewalls, and malware need to be updated as well. And be sure that they complete the recommended updates from their operating system, usually either Windows or Apple OS.
4. Buy and use a shredder for anything with personal information on it. This should be obvious and old-hat by now, but I am consistently amazed at the people who still don’t use one. The best ones are the confetti type, and here is an excellent quality shredder if you are ready for a new one. I’ve already ordered my new one and it should be here any day now. (Note: In the interest of full disclosure, the link for the shredder is an affiliate link, which means that if you click through it and buy the shredder I recommend I receive a small commission. Anything I earn from this I will use to support my work spreading the word about scams and frauds. Thank you in advance!)
5. Change and strengthen passwords. Do a password review and change any that are weak or obvious. Choices like “password” or “abc123″ are entirely inadequate for today’s cyber-threats. This can be hard because of possible memory issues, but security experts say it’s ok to write down passwords, just be sure they are not stored on the computer and are locked up whenever the senior leaves the house or has anyone over. The best passwords contain a mix of numbers, upper and lower case letters, and special symbols like # or ^.
“Haste makes waste” How many times have we all heard that old saying? I propose an updated version for scam prevention should be “Hurry should make you worry.”
Getting people to make a decision quickly is one of the oldest tools in the legitimate marketers’ toolbox. Don’t encourage people to think too long; they may decide not to buy your product or service. Rather, get them to spend now so you make the sale.
A similar principle applies in “scam world,” what I call the destructive alternative universe into which the scammers try to lure the unsuspecting. Many times the crooks try to get people to part with their money or information based on fear-driven urgency. For example, classic scams such as the “problem with your bank account/credit card” scam or the grandparent scam employ urgency: In the first, the victim had better click on the link in the phony email or call the phone number NOW to prevent further false charges from piling up. In the second, the senior’s poor grandchild is stuck in a terrible predicament out of the country and needs that money wired NOW!
Notice how in both examples the urgency tries to prevent the targeted elder from using what I call the 3rd R of scam prevention, “Reach out to check it out.” Taking your time to think and slowing down the movement from information to action allows for your inner “scam detector” to kick in and save you from a potentially devastating error. I always love it when a senior tells me in one of my presentations that he or she shut down the grandparent scam by calling the grandchild and talking to them directly. You should see the look of pride and victory on their face!
So here’s my challenge to you: Make it part of your scam prevention plan for 2015 to commit to always thinking before you act whenever you receive something questionable (if it asks for money or personal information) through any medium. And, if you’re the child of an elder parent or an eldercare professional, remind and reinforce this practice often.
In these last few days before Christmas many people are overwhelmed and distracted with holiday preparations. There’s so much to do! You might have forgotten you ordered something, right?
That’s what the crooks are banking on. The scammers are busily trying to rip people off, relying on their being too overwhelmed and distracted with holiday preparations. Now is the time to be sure you don’t unwrap a most unwelcome gift: A scam.
Fraudsters are sending out emails with phony (but real-looking) shipping confirmations. Here’s an example:
The example is Wal-Mart, but Target and Home Depot have also been spoofed in the scam emails. It’s easy to imagine that someone might think, “Hmmm. I don’t remember ordering anything from Wal-Mart, but maybe I forgot.” If you click on the link to get more information, you download a virus that goes after your personal information. You’ve just become a likely victim of identity theft. Not exactly the kind of holiday gift you want!
What to do? Remember, never click a link in an email. Always remember the 3rd R of scam prevention: Reach out to check it out. Call your local store directly, using the number you find on the legitimate website or through 411 Directory Assistance. Here are some more tips for spotting a sketchy email:
Keep your “scam detector” turned up high in the days ahead, and Happy Holidays!
“You better not pout, you better not cry, you better watch out, I’m tellin’ you why…Scam-A-Claus is coming to town!”
With apologies to a beloved Christmas song, that’s the tune to keep in mind this time of year.
It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is almost here, and with it, the holiday shopping season. Where there’s people and money, you can bet the scammers will be trying to rip people off. Don’t let them pull a fast one on you!
Here are several scams to watch out for as you begin your Christmas/holiday shopping:
1. Gift card scams—Crooks can steal the codes from the backs of cards and then enter them at the store’s website to make online purchases. When the person who receives the card tries to use it, they find the money is gone. What to do? Don’t buy gift cards from those big racks in stores, and if you do, check the card to be sure the packaging and covering over the code are untouched.
2. Data breaches—Last year I got caught in the Target data breach, and earlier this year my credit union sent me a new card again because of the problem at Home Depot. There’s not much any one person can do about companies’ failures to provide secure systems, so your best protection is to always use your credit card rather than your debit card, and check your accounts regularly for small and/or unknown charges.
3. Phony refunds—Scammers send out emails that look like they come from a real business (such as Amazon) saying the recipient is due a refund. If you click on the link in the email it either takes you to a bogus website out to steal your personal information or it downloads malware to your computer. REMEMBER: NEVER CLICK ON A LINK IN AN UNSOLICITED EMAIL. Other variations on this scam include fake airline confirmations and package delivery notices.
It’s always a good idea to practice positive vigilance for scams, and never more so than at this time of year. If you have a question or are not sure about something, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to answer right away. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving, and may you have more than ever to be thankful for this year!
Well, this was completely predictable! In their never-ending efforts to rip off elders (and others), scammers have been promoting a variety of scams and frauds playing off the fear surrounding the Ebola outbreak. Here are some examples:
One of the more annoying forms of scams against the elderly is the subscription scam. Lately there have been reports of companies sending out bogus renewal notices for our local newspaper here in my hometown of St. Louis, MO. They are highly deceptive in that they appear to be legitimate and could easily fool the uninformed, so in the interest of spreading the word and preventing anyone from getting ripped off, here are the names of the companies involved:
Associated Publishers Network
850 Boulder Highway, #355
Henderson, NV 89015
Readers Payment Service (RPS)
P.O. Box 2489
White City, OR 97503
I intend that this information helps you recognize the scam, know how to respond, and reach out to verify any subscription renewal notices you or your parent may receive by checking the names and addresses on a mailing against the ones above. Never send payment to a third-party payment manager without verifying that your newspaper or magazine actually has a relationship with them. Remember that if you have a question about a subscription or renewal you can call the number in the front of the newspaper or magazine or check the periodical’s real website for contact information. If it’s happening here, there’s a good chance it’s happening where your parents (and you) live, too.
(Note from Art: This is a guest article By Stacy Haberstroh, Licensed Insurance Broker and Geriatric Care Manager at Senior Insurance Concepts.)
It starts in the month of September: You are bombarded with information about “Open Enrollment”. The huge envelopes arrive in the mail from your current company, which many people never read. The “Medicare and You” booklet is stored unopened in a desk drawer. The newspaper is full of advertisements, the television commercials begin, and the phone starts to ring. These are all signs that this thing called “Open Enrollment” has begun. Medicare’s Open Enrollment period for the 2015 plan year runs from October 15,2014 through December 7, 2014.
But what really is Open Enrollment? Well, simply stated, it is time to “Stay” or “Go.” It is that easy: Stay with your current plan or Go to a new plan. The challenge is deciding to stay or to go. If you don’t speak the Medicare language, you are likely overwhelmed with interpreting the information. You can go online at www. Medicare.gov or read the Medicare and You booklet. However, you may experience information overload – the more you gather, the more you become confused. You are not alone.
Unfortunately, this time period brings out scammers as well, trying to steal your money and/or your identity. Here are 4 scams to watch out for and an idea for how to stay safe while you sort through your options:
What’s the solution? Find a licensed Insurance Broker who:
When choosing your Insurance Broker, make sure they are knowledgeable and can compare the different plans. If they scare you or pressure you to make a decision – show them to the door. You want to work with a respectable, educated, and certified Insurance Broker. Once you find him or her, hold on to them and tell all of your friends. Remember, friends don’t let friends go through Open Enrollment alone.
(If you have a question or would like to contact Stacy Haberstroh, reach her at either 314-517-4073 or email@example.com)
As everyone who has attended one of my talks has heard me say several times, the scammers are always evolving in their tactics and finding new ways to rip off the uninformed or unwary. The latest twist is what’s called a “clickbait scam,” in which the scammers send an email, post to Facebook, or place an ad on a website with a shocking or tantalizing message intended to lure in the curious with emotional “bait” and set them up for identity theft.
As I write this, the scammers are using headlines like “Robin Williams’ Last Goodbye Video,” “Shocking ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Goes Wrong and Kills Little Girl,” and other videos related to the African Ebola outbreak. If an elder you care about clicks on the link to the video, they will get an official-looking message that they “need to update their video player.” If they click on the link they may be directed to a page which asks for their personal information or that will download malware to their computer that searches out their personal information such as names, addresses, user names, passwords, etc. Either of these can lead to identity theft and other problems.
So what do you do to prevent this scam? Never click on a link to a video you receive in an email, on Facebook or other social media (this has been reported on Twitter, too), or in an ad on a website. If you’re not sure, hover your mouse or pointer over the link and see what address you’ll really be sent to if you click it. Scam addresses often have a bunch of random letters and numbers in a kind of “computer gibberish,” while legitimate addresses will look more “normal,” i.e. as we have come to expect. (www.alsa.org, for example, is the real web address for the ALS Association.)
Many seniors are fairly tech-savvy, but they may not have heard about this sneaky scam. Pass the word to them and help them avoid becoming just another “hooked victim” of the click bait scam.
It seems that not a week goes by that the media doesn’t report a data breach, which experts define as “an incident in which an individual name plus a Social Security number, driver’s license number, medical record or financial record (including debit and credit card numbers) is potentially put at risk because of exposure.” This exposure can be in either paper or electronic form. Just in the last few days came the news that a major hospital system was the target of apparently Chinese hackers who stole the information for more than 4.5 million patients, and then The UPS Store announced yesterday it was the victim of a computer attack that affected 51 stores in 24 states. These problems come in the wake of the much larger attacks on Target, PF Changs, and Neiman Marcus.
According to The Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org), data breaches have become the greatest risk for identity fraud. The most recent statistics show 480 reported data breaches for the most current week, up 21.5% over the same period last year. Negligent employees are the major cause of data breaches, but malicious attacks are far more costly. 1 in 3 people who receive a notice that their information was involved in a data breach become victims of identity fraud, and 46% of consumers with breached debit cards in 2013 became fraud victims in the same year, compared with only 16% of people whose Social Security Number was compromised.
Data breaches definitely are a case of “What you don’t know CAN hurt you.” Most of the time companies are responsible about notifying people whose information was compromised, but it’s important to take charge of handling your own security and that of the seniors you care about. So what can you do? Here are 5 ideas for minimizing risk from someone else’s mistake:
1. Place a credit freeze or security freeze on your credit reports. This prevents thieves from opening new accounts on your credit report if your Social Security number is stolen. Remember that there is a charge for both placing and removing a credit freeze, so be careful if you or your senior access credit frequently. Note that simply monitoring your credit doesn’t help if your SSN isn’t involved; see step 2 below.
2. Cancel/replace a compromised card right away, and watch the account connected to that card every day or every other day for at least a month to catch any fraudulent charges. It’s a good idea to check your accounts (checking, savings, and credit/debit cards) frequently even if you haven’t been a victim. You can also ask the bank or financial institution for a special notification on the account. This is the most important step to take if you know that only your payment card information was stolen or lost.
3. Don’t shop with your debit card (because the protections aren’t as good), or if you do, be sure to sign for a transaction and not use your PIN number. Also, it’s a good idea to change your PIN annually despite the “hassle factor.” Many people write down their PINs and store them in a secure, locked place.
4. Unlink your accounts. If you have a savings account tied to your checking account with a debit card it could be looted as well if the card information is stolen.
5. Sign up for alerts against property fraud at www.propertyfraudalert.com. If someone takes out a home equity loan or files a lien against your property you can take steps to dispute it.
Data breaches are likely to continue to cause problems in the future, but with a few simple steps the risks to the elders you care about (and you) are much more manageable.
I’ve been very proud of a step my home state of Missouri recently took to prevent a particular form of scam targeting seniors with a pension from being a public employee. HB1217 makes it illegal to lend money against public employee pensions, and it should be a precedent for other states’ legislatures and the federal government, and future legislation should, in my opinion, outlaw the business altogether. Missouri is the first state in the nation to outlaw this practice. Way to go, MO!
Pension advance scams go by many names: “Pension advances,” “pension sales,” “pension loans,” and “pension buyouts” are the most common ones. An elder with a pension from the government, the military, or a corporation signs away their payments for a period of 5 to 10 years in exchange for an upfront lump-sum payment. The first kind of bad in this scam is that there are several deceptive “gotchas” with this scheme for those who borrow against their future payments:
In addition, the pension advance companies seek people to buy into these schemes as investors, and they often target seniors looking for low-risk investments with a monthly payout and annual returns of 7% or more. The second kind of bad with pension advance scams is that some judges have ruled them unenforceable, meaning the investors lost their money when the borrower simply stopped paying. The FTC also reported that the pension advance companies may charge investors high fees and make it very hard to get out of the investment. It’s also important to note that these so-called “investments” are usually not regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Sadly, far too many elders wind up in financial trouble for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they turn to sources of ready cash such as pension advance scams(“payday loans in sheep’s clothing,” according to one state regulator). Please pass the word about this problem (refer them to this blog post, for example) and help elders find workable alternatives in cash crunches whenever possible by referring them to reputable professionals.
The medical alert scam has been around for at least a year now, and recently the scammers have changed their tactics. Some robocalls now promise that you’re entitled to $3,000 in money-saving coupons (as in the “freebie scam”). Others falsely claim that the free-device offer is being made on behalf of AARP as a way of claiming legitimacy. Don’t be fooled! It’s the same old scam that tries to get your credit card or bank account information for supposed monitoring fees for the “free” device that never arrives. Provide that info and you risk identity theft.
HOW THE SCAM WORKS
Recipients of these calls report several different phone numbers on their caller ID, so remember that you can’t trust it anymore because the scammers can easily spoof a phone number. The calls urge recipients to press 1 to get their free device by providing their address and credit card, or press 5 to opt out from future calls and “alert your health care provider that you have refused the offer.” DON’T DO EITHER!! Pressing 1 puts you through to a live operator – and a hard sell with more scare tactics to get you to reveal your financial and personal information. Pressing 5 tells these crooks you have a working phone number that’s a set-up for future nuisance calls. There’s no indication that anyone has ever received a free system as promised, and after providing financial account information, people report getting billed for bogus monitoring services — and even threatened with lawsuits if they didn’t pay. This is intimidation and fear, two classic “dead giveaways for a scam.”
WHAT TO DO
1. Hang up without pressing any key.
2.Never provide any personal information, including your name, address and birthdate. Never give out account or Medicare/Social Security numbers.
3.Recognize that displayed numbers are likely fake but still report them to ftc.gov/complaint or 1-888-382-1222.
4. Contact your phone-service provider to block robocall numbers. Don’t pay for this protection, though, because caller ID-displayed numbers are often changed.
Remember, if you’ve been scammed, notify local law enforcement and your Attorney General.
(Thanks to the BBB for the information I used in this update.)
By Curtis Bailey, Attorney at Law
(In this article I want to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Curtis Bailey. He is an elder law and estate planning attorney who has a similar dedication to scam and fraud prevention. Curtis and I, along with financial advisor Lisa Anglin, are forming The Senior Scam Response Team to pool our knowledge and resources to even more effectively serve seniors, their families and caregivers, and professionals in eldercare as we all work together to prevent scams and frauds. Watch for more articles from Curtis, Lisa, and me in the months ahead, and let me know if there are specific topics you would like us to cover. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Curtis at email@example.com)
Jim and Amy are so excited!! This recently retired couple is planning to take a month long trip to the Caribbean. Jim worked his entire career at the local steel mill and Amy taught for 25 years at the local high school. They raised 3 children who were very active in sports and the entire family was very involved in their church. Jim and Amy, now in their late 60s, have been saving for the day they could take a trip of a lifetime.
Amy has been researching options on the internet to rent a villa for the month they plan to be away. She has discovered a website, RentalFinder.com, advertising free transportation from the airport to their villa, free laundry service, and 25% off a rental of more than 2 weeks. This is by far the best deal she has found and called the “manager” listed on the website. The man who answered confirmed the details and asked Amy to wire $5,000 for the rental deposit. Amy wired the money and received a confirmation email with a copy of the rental agreement.
It is now two weeks before departure and Amy is becoming concerned. She has returned to the website multiple times to check on details and show her friends photos of the property, but the website has mysteriously disappeared. She has called the contact number multiple times, but the line has always been busy. Amy mentioned this situation to her oldest son, Michael, who did some research of his own and found that the rental company has never existed.
Unfortunately, Amy was victimized by an increasingly common travel scam. An individual finds a legitimate vacation rental listing on the internet and sends an email to the owner to check availability. A scammer intercepts the email and contacts the traveler posing as the property owner. When the traveler wires money to the scammer, it is often lost forever.
What is the best way to avoid this kind of scam? First, always maintain a “critical eye” on deals you find on the internet. The phrase “Trust, but verify” applies here. Always check as many of the details as you possibly can. There are a variety of resources on the internet to verify the address of the rental property or to see if the company is a reputable one. Take the time to do some homework before you commit to anything.
Second, never ever ever….and I say again, never wire money. That same advice goes for using your debit card. Once you wire money or use your debit card, it is effectively gone. The safer course of action is to use your credit card. There are certain protections available to you by using a credit card that are simply not open to you if you send cash or use a debit card (which is the same as sending cash).
Do not let the scammers ruin your trip of a lifetime! Always be vigilant and never wire money or send cash and you will be telling all of your friends and family about the wonderful vacation you enjoyed.
She is a single mother of 2, so when the notice arrived saying she had been approved for a $7000 educational grant from The Federal Reserve of New York, she thought it was a miracle and a dream come true. What she didn’t realize until later is that she was about to fall prey to the return of an old scam.
The caller told her she “just needed to send them a few hundred dollars” to cover taxes, fees, etc., and the money would be hers. $9000 in lost wired money later, a local reporter for Fox 2 television aired her story last night. As with all scam victimization, the story is heartbreaking.
This is a classic example of an advance-fee scam, one in which the crook tells you you’ve won a prize (or a grant) and you just need to send them some money. My readers and those who attend my talks will recognize that this is very similar to the scam that hurt Bill, my stepfather, in the form of a phony sweepstakes. As you may remember, he lost over $70,000.
This scam was big about 2 years ago, and seems to be making a comeback, according to an official of the BBB here in St. Louis. I looked at the website for the Federal Reserve of New York, and they have warnings prominently listed, including for different variations on this ploy. Scammers use the impressive name and implied authority of the Federal Reserve Bank to lend an air of legitimacy, but if you’ve been to my talks or read my book, you’ll know that it involves at least 3 Dead Giveaways for a Scam:
1. The scammer chose the victim (remember: never let yourself be chosen, always do the choosing)
2. Asking for money for a prize (or grant)
3. Asking the victim to wire money, especially with things like Green Dot Money Paks and other pre-paid cards
Remember also the 3rd R of scam prevention: Reach out to check it out. Got a notice that you’ve been approved for some free money? Call the purported granting organization, the BBB, your state’s Attorney General, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and do a little checking. As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it is!
You can watch the video of the story here, and thanks to Fox 2 St. Louis for airing the story.
Thanks for reading,
Briefly, all 3 scams happen in rest stops along the highway, and are variations on common, even age-old scams.
The first one involves panhandlers who work rest stops, claiming they need money for gas or a ticket home because their car broke down. They may even have a clunker car nearby with the hood raised, or a fuel can as a prop. There will usually be a car at the end of the parking lot, in the last slot, with another person in it since the crooks work in teams. What to do? Don’t fall for the story and politely say no, or call the state highway patrol. You’ll often find the number inside the rest area.
The next scam uses fear of car trouble as the hook. This is where the scammer will say he saw your parents’ vehicle emitting smoke or dripping oil. In more destructive cases, scammers have been known to slash tires while the driver uses the restroom. The scammer then says he is a mechanic who just happens to be passing through, or seems to be a kind and helpful soul who volunteers to help the victim change the tire for a fee. Another twist is when the scammer pretends to be a body shop worker who offers to fix a dent or scratch while your parent takes a break. Sometimes the scammer will want payment up front, which is a dead giveaway for a scam.
Here’s what to tell your parents to do:
In uncommon cases the scammers may threaten your parents if they refuse to pay. Tell your parents to look for a security guard if possible, but if no one is around, it’s best to pay the criminal while getting a good description of the crook to report to law enforcement.
The final scam is the age-old 3 Card Monte trick perpetrated in rest areas. As implausible as it sounds, apparently this happens in highway rest stops. Space doesn’t permit a full description of the details of 3 Card Monte here, but you can find out more if you’re interested by doing a Google search for it. The simplest way to avoid this one is to never take part in card playing of any kind in a rest area.
Road trips are a big part of summer in America. I wish your parents and you enjoyable, safe, and scam-free travels. Now if we could just do something about the price of gas…
Thanks for reading,
Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander’s office has recently begun running television ads in which a sleazy-looking scammer goes fishing for elders and their savings. The ads are highly effective in making a good point: Scammers are always out for sneaky and manipulative ways to steal seniors’ hard-earned retirement funds.
The ads also publicize an important new website and toll-free number the Secretary’s office has launched to help protect investors from scams. The website is www.missourisafesavings.com, and the number is 1-800-721-7996. The site has a number of helpful resources and links, including pages for checking on a broker’s registration, filing a complaint, signing up for email notifications, and important news items. Of particular note is Mr. Kander’s list of “Top Threats to Missouri Investors” report, which details such emerging scams as digital currency (“Bitcoins”) scams and crowd funding. I signed up for the email notices and will be eager to pass the information along to my readers and those who attend my talks.
All of this information will be helpful to people both in Missouri and around the country to educate themselves about scams and frauds, so kudos to Jason Kander for helping to reduce the number of scam victims and help those who fall prey to dirty crooks.
Many people have become wary of the stock market in recent years. After 2 disastrous episodes of bubbles bursting and huge, double digit losses in the last 15 years or so, it’s understandable that folks will be looking for investments that seem safer or offer the possibility of recouping some of their earlier losses. However, here are 5 special warning signs of a potentially deadly investment scam:
Some of you may have heard my presentations in which I describe the emotional dynamics of scam targeting and victimization, using the analogy from the world of neuroscience of “a boy or a girl on an elephant.” The elephant represents the much older and larger emotional brain, which takes over when highly activated. The boy or girl on the elephant represents the thinking, reasoning part of the brain, where critical thinking and healthy skepticism live. Scammers, in effect, “hijack the elephant” of the target’s emotional brain through what I call “The Five FLAGS:” Fear, loneliness, anger, greed or guilt, and sympathy. This is a major way they get seniors to do things against their better judgment and fall prey to the crooks. Recently I’ve updated my talk called “The Street Smart Senior” to better explain the role of mental confusion in hijacking victims’ brains. I have heard so many stories, from both my stepfather and others, about how talking to the crooks was confusing. As I’ve studied this, I see how 3 main tactics create mental confusion in the victim, effectively shutting down their critical thinking and thus, their ability to avoid victimization:
As I say in my talks with elders, their families, and professionals in the field, I propose there are 3 “R’s” of effective scam prevention: Recognize, Respond, and Reach Out. I want elders and those around them to be able to see these things coming from a mile away so they can stay safe from the predators. To that end, I am sharing with you below an example which illustrates the sketchy world of magazine subscription services.
Pictured below is a suspicious letter that was recently sent to my stepfather (Dead Giveaway for a Scam: The scammers choose you). Yes, even though he passed away almost a year ago this company just keeps sending him more scam bait! In it you can see how the letter creates a couple of enticing hooks for its intended target:
I researched the letter and the company that sent it via multiple websites. The company in question claims it has awarded over $4m dollars over the last few years, but it also has over 500 complaints registered with the Better Business Bureau. Read more about the company here.
Can’t you imagine someone getting hooked by this, thinking how great it would be to win $1.1 million dollars? The company even makes it seem more real by offering a 30 year annuity option or immediate lump sum payment, similar to how states structure lottery payouts. All of this, plus the phrase at the end encouraging people to consult with a financial advisor prior making a payout decision, is an effort to lend this sketchy sweepstakes an air of legitimacy.
Apparently what happens when a person tries to contact the company about the prize entry number is high-pressure, hard sell tactics trying to coerce them into giving the representative their checking account number (Dead Giveaway for a Scam: When someone asks for personal information) and then buy a bunch of magazines for several hundred dollars. Even though the company says “no purchase or payment required to enter or win,” many of which never stop being billed to the victim, even after repeated efforts to contact the company. All of this is perfectly legal, and a perfect example of a likely scam.
Remember, the first R of prevention is recognizing the scam coming your way by what the potential scammer is trying to get you to do, and by the emotions they are tugging on to get you to do it. Keep in mind the Dead Giveaways for a Scam and the emotional weapons for manipulation, what I call the Five Flags (As a reminder, the Five Flags are fear, loneliness, anger, greed/guilt, and sympathy). If you recognize it you can stop it in its tracks and keep yourself safe from crooks out to steal your money, and that’s my wish for you today and always.
Aren’t telemarketer and robocalls annoying? They are one the most complained-about nuisances of the modern world. On a more sinister note, they are also a major way elders get ripped off through a variety of scams.
What if there was a way to block unwanted calls? Well, maybe there is. Some new services and devices may just help you and the elders you care about be free of nasty telemarketers. 2 of these options work with landlines, and 1 works with cellphones.
The first service I researched is called Nomorobo(www.nomorobo.com), the winner of the FTC’s Robocall Challenge. The company’s website proclaims the service is “easy, flexible, and free.” Indeed, “free” is one of the main pros for this service. It does appear to be flexible, allowing phone reminders for things such as prescription reminders and doctor appointments to go through. It also seems to be easy to use. One big drawback though, is that it uses a certain kind of technology that may not be available on a specific phone carrier’s system. You can check it for yourself by entering your information on the website.
The second option for a landline is a clever device called the Digitone Call Blocker (www.digitone.com). It gets 4.5 stars in its reviews on Amazon.com (although it was listed as out of stock as I write this) and people seem to love how well it works, including the ability to block entire area codes and choose a VIP list of people whose calls are allowed to be completed. It also seems to work on all landlines. A couple of cons to weigh, however, are its price ($99.95 plus shipping) and the requirement to have caller id. It also appeared to be somewhat complicated to program and set up, so you may have to ask a tech-savvy friend or family member to help install it. Nevertheless, I think it would be worth the price and hassle factor to reduce the risk to elders from telemarketers.
The third option is for cellphones. This service is called Trapcall (www.trapcall.com), and it works with both smartphones and so-called “dumb phones,” those without apps. Per the live chat I had with a rep called “Bryan,” it unmasks calls with “unknown” numbers, but not if the number is “spoofed” to look like a different number. What Bryan told me is that a person could then add the spoofed number to their blacklist via the Trapcall website (for dumb phones) or through the mobile app for smartphones. Their basic plans start at $4.95 per month if paid monthly, or $3.95 per month if paying for a year in advance.
Please keep in mind when checking out any of these services or devices that there isn’t a “magic bullet” solution, and you can always rely on the old standby:
Hang up on them.
Thanks for reading,
One of the most-requested topics for my talks is charity scams. Elders are so often targeted by telemarketing scammers who prey on their generosity and values of giving to make the world a better place. Giving to charity is a major way that elders enact their developmental drives of legacy and control, that is their desire to be remembered in meaningful ways and to maintain some degree of influence in their lives in the face of increasing losses. Giving to a cause near and dear to their hearts helps seniors feel they are a good person and can still help make the world a better place. That’s why telemarketing charity scams are so heartbreaking, especially when targets realize how little of their donations actually go to the causes to which they are giving.
It’s important to note that the vast majority of nonprofits in America do not use scam telemarketing firms to collect their donations, and the presence of some bad actors shouldn’t mean that all charities or nonprofits are suspect. For those who do use telemarketing firms, the picture is far from pleasing:
In thinking about preventing such scams from draining away money from truly worthy causes, here are a few ideas to consider:
Giving to help those less fortunate and to help make the world a better place calls us into some of the best parts of ourselves. Don’t let scammers ruin this essential part of the elders you care about.
Thanks for reading,
The telephone is a very common way that scammers target seniors. According to the Better Business Bureau, a new type of telephone scam is making the rounds in which the victim gets charged for attempting to return a phone call.
This new scam is called the “One Ring” scam because the target’s phone usually only rings once before the call is disconnected. When the person tries to return the call to see who it was, they are charged a $19.95 international call fee plus $9 per minute while on the line. Victims have reported the calls seem to be mostly coming from Caribbean countries, often with area codes 876, 809, 473, 274, or 268. With the endless array of new area codes with burgeoning cellphone use, it’s often impossible to tell by looking at caller ID if the call is legitimate or not. Some calls may come from domestic area codes as well. I think there’s a risk of “scam layering” with this as well, such as combining the “one ring” scam with the grandparent scam, keeping the elder on the line and racking up charges while talking to crooks who scare them with false stories about their grandchild’s being in trouble in a foreign country.
An elder who gets caught in this scam should notify their phone company right away, since documenting the scam may help get the charges removed. Here are a few reminders about how to prevent cellphone fraud, courtesy of the BBB:
Yesterday my hometown newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, had a story about customers of the local utility company receiving emails claiming they needed to pay their bills via a link in the email. What was actually going on was a common but clever “phishing” scam. The crooks were trying to get people to give them their personal information, especially their Social Security number and bank account information. The emails had very official-looking logos and graphics for the utility company. While the article didn’t say if anyone had fallen for this scam, it’s a reminder of this all-too-common ploy to steal people’s information and, potentially, their identity. So here’s the gentle reminder: NEVER give out personal information via an email claiming to be from a utility, bank, the IRS, or other institution. Pass the word to the elders you know and keep this in mind for yourself as well.
Thanks for reading,
Last Sunday’s edition of my local newspaper featured a story by personal finance reporter Jim Gallagher about Bill and his scam victimization. It’s hard to believe that just over 4 years have passed since Bill’s situation came to light, and yet the story is as fresh as ever. I’m also busier than ever giving talks and reaching out to help keep elders safe, and for that I am very grateful.
It’s also hard to believe that it’s been just over 6 months since Bill passed away. The article tells a bit of that story as well. The last few months for me have been full of handling estate matters and taking care of all sorts of details. I’m mostly finished with all of that now, and I’m delighted to be back blogging and connecting with my readers again. I appreciate your patience during the long time off, and I look forward to helping you keep abreast of the latest developments in the ever-changing world of financial predation of elders and solid ideas for keeping elders safe.
Please take a minute to read the article about Bill here
Thanks for reading,
So often I hear about elders who have been ripped off in what’s come to be known as the “granny scam.” This is when a crook calls and claims to be a grandchild stuck in some foreign country. After playing on the victim’s emotions and hijacking their mind with sympathy, then the scammer tries to pull down the invisibility cloak by telling the elder to keep their problem secret: “Don’t tell Mom and Dad–they’ll be so mad!” This, of course, is the scammer’s way of preventing their target from asking anyone about their grandchild’s whereabouts and stopping the scam in its tracks.
Secrecy is the basis for dividing the victim from their family or others who are looking out for them. In numerous other frauds the crooks will tell the elder not to tell anyone about the sweepstakes they’ve just won, or the money they are willing to share with them, and on and on. Secrecy is a major tool to keep the elder under the criminal’s sway. Therefore, I encourage everyone to remind the elders in their lives that keeping a secret about anything to do with a possible scam is a recipe for pain and destruction.
I frequently look for simple and concise ways to convey my book’s message about prevention and recovery from elder scams. The field can be complex, as the scammers constantly evolve and change the tricks they use to devastate our elders’ lives. This video captures why I wrote my book in about 3 minutes. I hope you find it illuminating.
Thanks for reading (and watching),
Make no mistake about it; scam prevention is serious business. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a little wry humor at the scammers’ expense. Here’s a great story from the comments section of an online article about 6 common scams targeting elders:
“I love getting “grandchild in trouble” calls ~~~ I let the “grandchild” talk and talk~~~ then either say I only have girls (if a boy) ~~~ or only boys (if girl). I have wasted their time and maybe saved one person from getting scammed…One of my answers that friends say is best ~~~~ I tell them I am retired nun and have no kids..so could not have grandchildren!”
Now THAT’S one savvy senior! I had to laugh when I read this, and appreciate it for the writer’s wicked cleverness and their underlying desire to maybe save someone else from being ripped off. Put in my “3 R’s of Scam Prevention” framework, the writer Recognized the presence of the scammy phone call, Responded in a way that didn’t play into the scammer’s plea and had some fun asserting her power over the crook, and then Reached Out by sharing her success with others in the comments to the story.
Brilliant. And inspiring!
You can read the full story here
This year’s income tax season is off and running. Did you know your parent’s scam-related losses are usually tax deductible? I didn’t know it either until I started helping Bill, my stepfather, handle the aftermath. The IRS lumps them in with casualties, disasters, and other kinds of losses. Here are some helpful ideas and resources:
I spoke with Bart Stansfield, who is a certified tax preparer and enrolled agent with the IRS. He said they are considered ‘bad debt’ or ’personal losses,’ and this applies even if they used credit card cash advances to send money offshore. Use IRS schedule D, and list the entire amount of the loss on the form. The losses only offset tax liability, so if your Mom or Dad doesn’t file a tax return this won’t help. Your parent can take off up to $3000 per year until the total amount is used up. This could help offset gains from other transactions, like sales of stocks or other assets to replenish cash losses from the fraud or scam. Read more…
One of the more difficult situations I advise people about in my work with elderly frauds and scams is how and when to step in if an elder is getting ripped off. The grown child or caregiver is often struggling with a so-called “stubborn” person, or they describe them as “set in their ways,” which means they aren’t listening to the pleas from those around them about the risks present in the situation. Worst of all, the victim doesn’t “get” the urgent need to address the problem with specific steps to stop the perpetrator. Many times there’s also denial on the elder’s part; I’ll cover this more in a moment.
Stubbornness refers to a thinking and behavioral rigidity or inflexibility, which is useful at times and can have many sources. It’s healthy to be able to assert your own views and preferences, and to stand up for what you believe in while respecting others’ right to do the same. We harness a kind of constructive stubbornness when we refuse to be swayed by the tactics of slimy salespeople, and others (including con artists) who are trying to manipulate us for their gain. For example, one aspect of elderly fraud prevention I advocate is coaching seniors on refusing to be chosen for home repairs, prizes, and other unsolicited goods and services. Being stubborn about this is a good thing. Read more…
I’m a member of the eldercare professionals group on LinkedIn, and through that group I came across a very worthwhile article about financial abuse of elders. The author is Judy Heft, a professional and personal financial organizer based in Connecticut. She tells the story of one of her clients, a 101 year old man who was ripped off by a trusted caregiver to the tune of $16,000. The thief knew what she was doing, too, and perpetrated her crime in such a way that she couldn’t be prosecuted. The article just helped me update my talks on prevention I give to elders to include another “red light on your dashboard;” an elder’s signing checks made out to cash for the caregiver to take to a local business to endorse. In her article she makes the point that this stopped the police from prosecuting the caregiver because the signatures were not forged. Sneaky, huh!?
I encourage you to read the rest of Judy’s article by clicking the link below:
Thanks for reading,
In my book and in my prevention talks with seniors I go over what I call the “Three R’s” of scam prevention. Knowing the 10 Dead Giveaways for Scams is a part of the first “R” in my “3 R’s of Scam Prevention” work: Recognition. After all, a senior who recognizes when a scam is coming his or her way is much more likely to avoid victimization. When I talk to groups of elders about staying safe from scams, I am always seeking to build their abilities to know what to watch out for.
The first Dead Giveaway is when someone chooses the elderly person. Early on, it may not be completely evident that the friendly person on the phone or who engages them in a conversation in front of the drug store is a potential scammer. I tell them to be very cautious about anyone who calls them on the phone or who tries to chat them up out in public. Because the scammers are very skillful, and because seniors can be lonely and open to talking to a “nice person,” the stage can be set for a rip-off. My goal is to make seniors savvy and vigilant, not paranoid. Con artists are masterful at probing for weaknesses and vulnerabilities they can use to get what they want from the earliest contact with a victim. Read more…
A recent story from my area provides a great example of how scammers use what I call the “5 Flags” to rip off seniors. The flags I describe in my book are:
These emotions are the major emotional hooks scammers use to gain control of an elder’s mind and get them to give the crook what they want. In this example it’s money.
According to a local police department, the elderly victim received a call from a man claiming to be an attorney for her grandson, who he said had been in a serious car accident involving alcohol. Police said the man then informed the victim that her grandson was hospitalized and she would need to wire $4000 immediately to cover the cost of legally representing him. The woman then went to 2 separate locations and made two $2000 wire transfers. Read more…
You’ve just discovered your parent has been the victim of a fraud or scam. What do you do first?
Ask everyone you can everything you can, starting with the 2 most important questions:
1. “Has anyone threatened to hurt you, or someone close to you, if you don’t do what they want?”
If your parent or elder loved one answers yes, notify law enforcement about this IMMEDIATELY. Don’t take chances with this, no matter how unlikely the threat seems.
2. “Did you give the people you spoke with any account numbers, passwords, your Social Security number, or any other unique or security related information?” Read more…
However you discover your parent’s been ripped off, you’re likely to go through a period of shock. This reaction is a way our bodymind helps protect us from too much overwhelming information all at once. It’s a part of what we call the “fight-flight-freeze” phenomenon. Sometimes you hear people talk about it as the “deer in the headlights thing.”
You’ll be in the middle of thoughts like “This can’t be happening. Not to Mom (or Dad).”