Don’t Let Your Loved One Fall Victim to Phone Scams

It’s ten o’clock at night. The phone rings. An 81-year-old woman who lives alone—maybe she’s your mother, maybe your neighbor down the street—is startled from her sleep and lifts the receiver.

“Grandma, it’s me,” a tearful girl’s voice says. “I’ve been in a car accident. I’m in the hospital! Please, can you help me? I need money to pay the doctors!”

“What happened, Julie? Are you all right?” the woman replies, confused, her heart pounding. She will do anything for her beloved granddaughter. She is too befuddled to wonder why Julie is calling her instead of her parents.

Only this isn’t Julie. It’s a scammer who’s just hooked her next victim. Now that the con artist has the name she’s been fishing for, she will play Julie’s part to steal credit card information, supposedly to pay for her emergency room visit. And the 81-year-old woman will fall prey to identity theft.

Elder Financial Fraud Strikes All Too Often

According to the Massachusetts Attorney General, there has been an alarming increase in elder financial fraud. A recent CNBC report states that nearly 1 in 20 elderly respondents in a 2014 study of New York residents said they had fallen victim to some form of financial exploitation in their later years.

The Commonwealth’s AG’s Office says the most common victims are white females in their seventies and eighties, coping alone with cognitive impairment. Fraud takes many forms, from phone scams that steal credit cards and Social Security numbers, to con schemes that reroute assets without the victim’s knowledge or consent.

Scams Always Involve an Urgent Appeal for Money

Common telephone scams include the above emergency scenario, calls claiming that your loved one has won a huge prize or sweepstakes, fake debt collectors, con artists pretending to represent Medicare or the IRS, and more. The basic scam goes like this:

The con artist calls and presents a scenario that appears urgent, requiring immediate action releasing personal financial information:

  • For the grandparent medical scam, a credit card to pay for a grandchild’s ER bill;
  • For the lottery or sweepstakes scam, personal financial information to pay taxes in order to claim a huge prize;
  • For part two of the sweepstakes scam, bank or credit card details to pay a fat retainer fee to a “lawyer” who will “help” the victim reclaim her taxes and prize;
  • For the fake debt collector scam, personal financial information to avoid arrest for delinquent payments;
  • For the government agency scam, a Social Security number to verify identity to correct “suspicious activity” on a personal account.

How to Help Your Loved One Avoid Phone Scams . . .

The best way to avoid scams is to stay informed. Keep on top of news reports about scams. When you call or visit your loved one, check in to find out if she’s having any problems with unwanted calls.

In all cases, it’s essential that your loved one never gives any personal financial information, including credit card numbers, Social Security numbers or bank account details, over the phone, unless she has initiated the call to a legitimate source.

Explain to her that anyone who pressures her to make an immediate financial transaction over the phone—no matter how “authentic” they may sound—is trying to steal her money, and that she should immediately hang up. If possible, ask her to note the caller’s phone number, if it can be identified from a caller ID, time of the call, and the date.

You can help her to file a complaint with The Attorney General’s Office Elder Hotline, (888) AG-ELDER (888-243-5337).

. . . And Those Annoying Telemarketers, Too

No one likes telemarketing calls. But they can be especially upsetting or confusing for your loved one who is struggling with cognitive challenges and having difficulty managing the details of daily living.

To spare your loved one from unsolicited telemarketer calls, contact the Federal Trade Commission and ask that his or her name be placed on the National Do Not Call Registry. This is a free service, available for both home and mobile phone numbers. The number will remain on the list permanently unless your loved one requests that it be removed. Here’s how:

  • Call 888-382-1222
  • TTY: 866-290-4236
  • Register online, You’ll receive a confirmation email. Click on the link to complete the registration.

A few things to remember about the Do Not Call Registry:

  • It takes about a month for a number to get on the list. Please be patient.
  • The Do Not Call Registry does NOT screen for the following:
    • Calls from charities, political organizations and surveys;
    • Calls from companies you do business with and that you’ve given permission to call.

There is also a Massachusetts Do Not Call Registry:

While neither registry is perfect, used together they will weed out some of the calls.

For more detailed information about how to help your loved one avoid elder financial fraud, download this free guide from The Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General: $avvy $eniors: How to Avoid Financial Fraud.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care™ manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Olivia Guerra

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