Con artists regularly make false claims to older Americans to obtain money for themselves or others. Since these types of requests are rarely legitimate, seniors must never give money to any stranger on the phone — or to new “friends” met on the internet. It is usually best to immediately disconnect from such people. Continuing your contact with them will only invite more high-pressure arguments to break down your resistance.
To help you more readily resist such requests, this article will briefly review the ten most common scams currently being used to fraudulently steal billions from older people. Of course, you can decide to protect yourself on the phone by never answering calls from phone numbers you do not recognize — after entering and saving the phone numbers of all close family members, friends, and doctors.
Ten telephone and internet scams you must avoid taking seriously
- Social Security impersonation scam. These dishonest phone calls and emails are so common that Americans lost nearly $17 million to them back in 2018. These deceitful people usually start by telling you that your social security number has been suspended or used in a crime. Do not be fooled by this – just hang up your phone or delete the email. If you are truly worried, you can just call the local Social Security Administration office later to inquire if there are any valid problems with your account.
- Unsolicited phone calls or robocalls. No reputable company uses these so do not stay on the line – just hang up. And never believe any prerecorded message telling you that you have personally won something — or need to spend money to update some form of insurance coverage. When such matters are legitimate, they are handled through the mail.
- Sweepstakes and Lottery scams — possibly connected to Jamaica or another country. The simple truth is that most of us will never win free money during life. Therefore, do not be fooled by someone claiming you must just pay a small mailing fee or other expense so the caller (or sender of an email) can transfer your winnings to you. Legitimate companies always contact people by U. S. mail with this type of information.
- Romance scams. Both men and women are targeted on dating websites. Often, the writer will tell you how attractive you are or that you have written a clever profile. Over time, this person may start to contact you much more often. Never allow your own loneliness to convince you that giving money away to a potential “soulmate” is legitimate. While
tragedies do strike people at times, those of good character will not ask a “new friend” for funds because your sincere respect will always matter much more to them.
- Be aware of tech support scams. Avoid giving any computer repair group remote access to your computer – unless it is a highly reputable company you know and fully trust. And when you must take your computer to a store for repairs, first download all sensitive financial information and stored username and password lists onto a separate hard drive. Once you are sure it has been transferred, delete it from your computer. If online repairs will be made, you should also download and remove such data onto a separate flash or hard drive before the session begins.
- Scams targeting grandparents. Far too often, these scammers will first put a young person on the phone just long enough to claim a recent arrest or other dire problem before handing the phone back to another scammer. The second party will then tell you that money is needed immediately to bail the “grandchild” out of jail – or to put down as a deposit for medical care. Do not fall for this. Request a return phone number if you think the request might be an honest one – but do not provide immediate help.
- IRS impersonation calls or emails. Like the Social Security fraud scam referenced above, many thieves will try to scare you by saying they work with the IRS and that you must pay off a stated amount of money to prevent the filing of a lawsuit against you. The IRS does not work this way – they will always contact you through the U. S. mail. Call the IRS later, if you have any remaining worries.
- Identity theft scams. Sadly, credit card and other financial websites are constantly being hacked today. Once that happens, thieves may gain access to some of your personal or credit card information. However, since these con artists rarely obtain all the data, they need to directly steal from you, they may contact you and ask you to verify or provide additional information. Regardless of whether they email you or call – perhaps claiming they are trying to help you in some way — just delete the email or excuse yourself from the phone call and hang up.
- Debt scams. When you owe a large amount of money, the last thing you need is a dishonest credit counseling group claiming they would like to help you clear up your poor credit. Only consider working with this type of agency if they have a high rating with your local Better Business Bureau. Be sure to personally make the brief phone call to check on the company’s rating – you cannot trust ratings posted on most websites.
- Elder financial abuse. Unfortunately, some family members often try to take advantage of an older relative who they think can be easily convinced that they need emergency financial help. Always be prepared to tell your relatives or new people or groups contacting you that you live on a budget and cannot help them. If anyone works in your condo, apartment, or assisted living unit, always hide all checkbooks and financial ledgers. If you can afford to do so, hire a trustworthy bookkeeper – preferably a person recommended by a trusted friend who has known the bookkeeper for a long time.
Each month, carefully review your bank statement and other account records, looking for expenditures or transfers you did not authorize. Immediately contact a trusted friend or family member to help you properly address these problems. If you are beginning to have problems managing all your finances, ask your Houston estate planning attorney to provide you with a Durable Power of Attorney so that you can appoint a trusted person to handle these matters for you.
Always keep in mind that our government estimates that annually, seniors lose about $2.9 billion dollars to cruel financial scams. That should make it easier for you to resist giving any money or personal data away to strangers or “new friends.” (See: The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging publications).
Please always feel free to call one of our Murray Lobb attorneys when you have any serious concerns that someone is trying to take advantage of you financially. In some cases, you may want to ask us to draft a Durable Power of Attorney document. This will make it legally possible for someone you trust to help you manage your finances and prevent any dishonest person from gaining access to your funds.