June 15 was Elder Abuse Awareness Day. In the spirit of that day, I dedicate this article to my beloved sister, Mari, one of the purest souls on this planet, who has been going through the nightmare of being scammed.
You cannot imagine the number of sociopathic, miserable slimeballs out in the world who are successfully targeting senior populations with scams that have cost Americans above the age of 60 well over a billion dollars a year, according to the FBIâ€™s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
If you have had a relative or friend who has fallen victim to a scam, donâ€™t look down on them from a judge-y, smug platform. Victims include some of the brightest bulbs in the pack. The brainwashing techniques used by the scammers are highly sophisticated, calculated and effective, ensnaring people all over the globe. As usual, awareness is the key defense.
Common Types of Scams
Lottery Scams: Scams where the victim is told they must pay money to receive their winnings. Journalist Terry Turner writes, â€śCriminals contact their victims by phone, email or social media to congratulate them on winning big. They identify themselves as lawyers, customs officials or lottery representatives. They will say thereâ€™s a fee for shipping, insurance, custom duties or taxes to collect the prize. They ask for bank account information and money through a wire transfer or a gift card.
Meanwhile, the victim is skillfully guided to dream of all the good they can do for their loved ones. This is especially heady stuff for an older person feeling lonely and powerless in a dizzying changing world or one experiencing a loss of purpose.
Romance Scams: Turner writes, â€śCon artists use legitimate dating sites, chatrooms or social media to meet potential victims. They create fake profiles and build online relationships. They talk their victims into sending money, i.e., they need the money for medical expenses, visas to get into the country, or travel expenses. Any love interest met online who asks for money is likely a scammer, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).â€ť
Scams That Put Victims at Risk
Mule Money Scams: Scammers look for people to help them move stolenÂ money. They visit online dating, job search, and social media sites, create fake stories, and make up reasons to send the victim money, usually by check or Bitcoin. Then, they instruct the victim to send thatÂ moneyÂ to someone else by using gift cards or wire transfers. The victim is now open to criminal charges of money laundering.
Drug Smuggling Scams: Victims are given glamorous global trips and then given â€śpresentsâ€ť to give to people along their itinerary. Before you get all high and mighty about thinking you would never be so foolish as to fall for one of these schemes, think about a few other scams that really, really smart people fall for every day, like threatening calls from the IRS, warnings about serious problems with your computer, calls from â€śloved onesâ€ť for help or calls from government impersonators. Billions of dollars are lost through such scams across all age levels.
What To Do If Scammed
1. Alert your banks! Close bank accounts and open new ones (required updating all auto payments)
2. Alert all credit card companies
3. Make an immediate report to and request an immediate credit freeze at all three main credit bureaus: Experian, Trans Union and Equifax (prevents scammers from opening accounts or taking out loans in your name)
4. Change phone numberâ€”land line and mobileâ€”make them unlisted and block calls by dialing *61 after a bad call
5. Change all passwords online including social media and shopping sites
6. Change medical insurance numbersâ€”especially Medicare (must go to office to do it)
7. Make a police report ASAP (very important so ID theft is officially documented)
8. Make a report to FTCâ€”ReportFraud at ftc,gov
9. If a senior, make a report to National Elder Fraud Hotline:Â 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311)
Drug Smuggling Scammers want two things: money and personal information. Many victims are wiped out financially. Identity information, including social security numbers, Medicare or medical insurance numbers, birthdates, addresses, credit card and bank account information, is sold on the dark web, requiring consistent vigilance over your medical/financial assets to make sure no one is using your information.
Victims of identity theft may find their social security payments diverted or all their medical benefits used up. Identity thieves who are arrested, use the fake ID, post bail and disappear, leaving the innocent victim of ID theft to be arrested for crimes they know nothing about.
Financial fraud can be devastating and traumatic. Seniors, who are especially vulnerable toÂ loneliness, isolation, and elevated trust levels, are an ideal target for scammers. When other risk factors like cognitive impairment come into play, an older adultâ€™s vulnerability to the risk of experiencing serious, non-economic impact amplifies. The mental health impacts include intense emotions such asÂ anger, anxiety, hopelessness, despair, shock, betrayal, self-blame,Â shame and lack ofÂ confidence, pushing people into more fearful and isolative behavior. It is not unusual for seniors to crawl into a shell and hide things from their families out of fear and embarrassment.
Just remember, this happens to millions of people, many very smart. Be mad at the scammers. Be kind to the victims.
National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311)
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