I recently found out that my parents were victims of scammers. I still haven’t figured out how much money they lost but I see they fell victim to the call saying they owe the IRS money and they responded by buying prepaid cards to pay the so-called bill. I’m afraid they also gave their credit card number, because when I looked at their last statement, there are a lot of charges that they can’t (or won’t) explain. How can I prevent them from losing the little nest egg they have?
Unfortunately, the exploitation of our elderly has become more common than we realize. Because they often have more assets, seniors are more targeted than other age groups; their generational tendency to be confident and polite puts them in a situation where they won’t hang up on the phone or ask them to leave if they show up at the front door. Scam artists can be quite good at intimidating, coercing or tricking an older person into paying substantial sums of money and yet very few people will report the act, often out of embarrassment. AARP reports that the average loss to a victim of financial abuse is $120,000!
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic appears to have made matters worse, with older Americans losing more to scams than any other age group. Consumer advocate Danielle Murphy explains: “We’ve all been isolated and alone, and an elderly person is very vulnerable when the phone rings and they haven’t spoken to anyone all day. These scammers are so cunning and convincing, and once the money is gone, it’s gone. Some of the most commonly used tactics include the grandparent scam, calls claiming you owe back taxes, offers of free or discounted drugs or medical equipment, and pop-ups and emails that your computer needs to be updated for which you need to allow remote access.
How can I help you? Have a conversation about what’s happening across the country when it comes to senior citizen scams. Let your parents know that government agencies do not call asking for personal information (such as social security numbers and bank accounts). Tell them that no one needs to pay a fee to collect lottery winnings; and if they haven’t played the lottery, they can’t win it! Remind them what they taught you decades ago: don’t trust strangers, especially those looking for personal information and money. Offer to help them register their phone number in the do not call registry. You can also add their addresses to opt-out lists with the Direct Marketing Association. Once done, legitimate providers won’t send spam, and your parents will know that what’s coming is probably from scammers. Fraudulent mail should be reported to the United States Postal Inspection Service. Advise your parents to check their credit report regularly to ensure that new fraudulent accounts have not been opened in their name. If your parents aren’t directing your warnings, you can call the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center at 800-646-2283 for additional information and assistance.
People with dementia or impaired cognitive functions are at an even higher risk of financial abuse. If a family member has dementia or other cognitive difficulties, be sure to visit or call them regularly. Check for mail that may be piling up. Block phone and mail solicitations as noted above. Work with their banking institution to set up guarantees. If your parents insist on having a credit/debit card, a prepaid card with a limited balance might be the best option; this way, other financial accounts can be separated and secured. You can ask the financial institution if they can alert you if they notice unusual activity on your relative’s account.
The Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Office website as well as the Maryland Attorney General’s website provide information on what to know and who to contact if you or a family member fall victim to a scammer .
Questions and comments can be directed to Mary Chaput at the Department of Aging and Disabilities, 2666 Riva Road, Suite 400, Annapolis, MD 21401, or by contacting 410-222-4339 or [email protected].