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Elder Fraud: Recognizing, Preventing, And Recuperating From Scams

Mar 28, 2024 | Estate Planning

To any compassionate person, it seems horrific that there are people in the world purposefully targeting vulnerable seniors for financial scams, but it’s an unfortunate reality. In 2022, seniors reported losing over $1.6 billion to scammers, which is an increase from the reported $1 billion losses of 2021. There are many types of scams and they seek to deplete your life savings, take advantage of your benefits, and steal your identity.

Attorney Ryan Jay Smollar of Elder Law, P.A. is dedicated to advocating for the elderly, which includes educating seniors on the potential dangers of scammers, fraudsters, and bad actors. If you or a loved one is in retirement, it’s important to take action to prevent scams from being successful. If you or a loved one has been targeted by a scammer or you suspect that you are being scammed, reach out to schedule a free consultation and get personalized advice on your situation. For more information on elder scammers and how they operate, continue reading.

Common Elder Scams

There are many forms that elder scams can take, and they can occur online, over the phone, by mail, or in person, which is why it’s important to be vigilant and know the typical schemes and signs. Here are a few of the common scams and how they operate:

  • Government impersonation scams: People claiming to be from government agencies, especially the IRS or Social Security Administration, reach out over the phone or online asking for identifying personal information or alleging that you owe money and must pay quickly in order to avoid penalties. Keep in mind that the government will not reach out to collect money or information over a phone call.
  • Venmo scams: Scams that take place over money-exchange apps like Venmo and Zelle usually occur like so: a stranger sends you a large sum of money, then messages you to beg for it back, citing it as a mistake and preying on your compassion. The money, however, is from a stolen debit card, so when you willingly send back the money, it comes from your account and there is no way to recover it since you sent it willingly.
  • Health insurance scams: In this scheme, fraudsters reach out to people who qualify for Medicare and pose as agents calling to say that there is something wrong with the account. They are phishing for personal identifying information and banking information. Sometimes, these people will try to sell you equipment or services they claim is covered by Medicare. Never give out your Medicare information to people who have reached out to you unsolicited.
  • Romantic scams: With the prevalence of online dating, bad actors are waiting in the wings to take advantage of peoples’ desires for companionship. Romantic scammers prey particularly on lonely elderly people in order to build enough trust that their target will send them money. Hallmarks of this scam include a scammer building a rapport with their target, proposing romantic intentions, and refusing to meet or speak in person. In most instances, the scammer will ask for help with financial stress, and sometimes state that they will only be able to meet in person when they have their finances secured.
  • Grandparent scams: These scams target grandparents by pretending to be a family member in distress. There are several variations of the scam, but the general set-up involves the scammer placing a call to their target and claiming to be a family member–usually a grandchild–in an emergency situation requiring money for bail, lawyer fees, hospital bills, etc. Typically, the scammer will have researched their target so they can use correct names and identifying information. Other hallmarks might include a doctored phone number to seem close to that of your loved one. If you or a loved one is targeted by this type of scammer, don’t send money in spite of urgent pressure. Hang up and contact your family member to check in on them.
  • Sweepstakes scams: These types of scams target the elderly for sweepstakes prizes that they did not enter. The caveat is that the supposed prize winner must send money to cover taxes and fees in order to claim their prize. This payment is usually requested in the form of cash, checks, or gift cards, and frauding of the individual can potentially continue when the scammer strings them along by promising that their winnings will be delivered with greater fees.
  • Tech support scams: These scams prey on the knowledge gap of elderly individuals in the realm of technology. A cybersecurity pop-up informs the user that their device is compromised and includes a number to call for tech support. When you call the number, the scammer on the other end will request an upfront fee or remote access to your computer, through which they can reach your banking information. Keep in mind that if there is ever an issue with your device, you will need to seek out tech support–always be suspicious if tech support comes to you.

These are a few of the most recognizable schemes currently in circulation, but be aware that scammers are creative and always coming up with new ways to take advantage of people. While it helps to know some of the forms that these schemes can take, you will also want to keep in mind some of the hallmark signs of a scam.

Recognize Scamming Red Flags

When you are dealing with an unknown person–especially one that has reached out to you rather than vice-versa–you will want to be alert to signs of scams. These red flags can include:

  • They tell you to keep your interaction a secret
  • They send you an automated message
  • They ask for money over the phone
  • They ask you to wire money
  • They ask for payment in gift cards
  • They pressure you to pay immediately without giving you time to corroborate
  • Their correspondence contains spelling and grammatical errors
  • You win prizes for a sweepstakes or contest you didn’t enter
  • They cannot provide verifiable business or contact information
  • Never send anyone money without verifying the story/interaction

These are only a few of the common signs that scammers are targeting you. Keep in mind that real businesses and entities will not pressure you to send them money or give them personal access. Always keep your passwords private and never share your social security or Medicare information with anyone.

What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed

If you have fallen for a scam, it is normal to have an emotional reaction. You likely feel shameful and depressed, and you might not want to interact with anyone. However, reaching out to trusted loved ones can help you during this period. If you are ever unsure whether an interaction might be a scam, reaching out to the people you love is a great way to get feedback. If you have already lost money or personal information to scam, consider doing one or more of the following:

  • Contact the police.
  • Inform your bank. In some cases, you can reverse activity on your account or have it monitored.
  • Report the scam to the FTC. You can also find useful information on scamming on their website.
  • Contact your credit bureaus/the SSA. In some cases, you will want to cancel your credit card or freeze your credit.

Reach Out To Elder Law, P.A. For Elder Fraud Legal Advice

The best way to prevent scams is to be educated about them and to have an elder law attorney who can help you verify what may be suspicious financial activity! If you or an elderly loved one has been scammed by swindlers, Ryan Smollar and the attorneys of Elder Law, P.A. can offer helpful legal advice. If you are worried about the possibility of being scammed, reach out to us and we can give you the tools to minimize the risk of targeted abuse and scams. Schedule a free consultation and learn how we can work with you to offer you peace of mind.

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