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Beware of Senior Scams!

There are many, many good people in the world.  Some strangers would give you the shirt off their back, folks who volunteer their time to help others in need, and those who hold the door open for you as you are entering a store.  Especially in our tumultuous times, it is important to be kind and generous to our fellow neighbors.  However, with the good must come the bad.  There are scammers out there who prey on various populations, usually ones who are more vulnerable.  Beware of senior scams!

What are some senior scams to be aware of?

The ne’er-do well must somehow get in contact with you in order to scam you.  This would usually be via telephone or the internet, but it can also be in-person contact.

  1. Watch out for fake Facebook friends.

The Better Business Bureau reported that a government grant scam is prevalent on Facebook.[1]  The scammer makes a fake Facebook profile that looks like it belongs to a friend of yours.  The “friend” sends a message to you stating that the “friend” received a government grant of some sort.  Of course, to receive the government grant, you must make an initial investment or pay an application fee. 

Lessons:  

  • Don’t believe every Facebook profile is real, even ones that look like they belong to a real-life friend.  
  • All legitimate federal grants are listed on www.grants.gov
  • Government agencies will not communicate with you via social media. 
  1. Watch out for scam emails, fake pop-ups, and fake bank transfers.  

Some scammers will send out an email stating that you have a virus or other malware on your computer.  In one instance[2], the victim was contacted by a company called Premium Tech Support to clean up his computer.  The victim was quoted a price of $599, which he paid.  The company subsequently told him they accidentally deposited almost $80,000 into the victim’s bank account and asked for the money back.  The victim transferred the funds back to the company, only to realize that the initial transfer of funds from the company into the victim’s bank account was phony.

In another instance[3], the senior had a pop-up window appear on their computer that informed them they had a virus.  The pop-up asked for the senior to contact customer support to fix the issue.  Once the senior called customer support, a representative took control over the victim’s computer to remove the non-existent virus.  Paying to remove the non-existent virus was one part of the scam, but then the scammer also had access to sensitive information.  

Lessons:  

  • Do some research to ensure you are working with a reputable business.  
  • If you think there has been a banking error of some sort, contact the bank to determine the real facts.
  • Don’t give a third-party access to your computer unless you know for sure it is customer support from a company that you contacted. 
  1. Watch out for home repair scams

Home repair scams can come in many forms.  The first thing a scammer can do is quote you one cheaper price for work and then demand much more after it is finished.  Another way the scammer can operate is to do repairs that you never requested or agreed to.  Or, the scammer can impersonate a building inspector and demand immediate repairs. Some scammers will up their fear game by telling you that they will put a lien on your home if you don’t agree to what they offer.

            

            Lessons:

  • If a stranger comes to your home seeking to do repairs, tell them you want to get other estimates. This will give you time to see if the company is who they say they are. Legitimate companies shouldn’t have a problem with you getting other estimates.
  • If you aren’t interested in the product or service, then don’t feel bad saying no. It is your choice!
  • If you tell the scammer “no,” then they will oftentimes try to throw in a last-minute “deal.” Please, don’t fall for it!
  1. Watch out for romance scams

Seniors are vulnerable to loneliness, especially in light of COVID-19 restrictions.  Since you may not be able to go to the places you would normally go to meet people, you may turn to the internet to find companionship.  And there are many legitimate websites to find love! However, some scammers will create fake dating profiles and try to lure you into a relationship.  Then, the scammer can ask for money, sensitive banking information, or gift cards.  

In one instance[4], the scammer talked the senior into doing an illegal act.  The senior went to China to meet her paramour, whom she had met online.  He was mysteriously unavailable to meet when she arrived, but some of his “friends” asked her to take a backpack full of the paramour’s clothing back to Australia.  The backpack contained drugs, unbeknownst to the senior.  After taking the backpack through airport security, she was arrested and sentenced to death.  

            Lessons:

  • Don’t rush into any relationship.
  • If the person cannot be available to video chat, they may not be who they say they are.
  • Do an internet search of the individual’s name and profile pictures.  
  • If an in-person meeting occurs, do so in a public place.
  • Definitely don’t send any money to someone unless you are confident it isn’t a scam. 

Why don’t seniors report being scammed?

Unfortunately, many senior scams go unreported.  Between 2 and 3 million seniors get scammed every year.[5]  However, on average, only 1 in 44 cases is reported.[6]  But why? One reason is that many seniors are embarrassed that they were scammed.  They think that others will think them unfit and may even “put them in a home.”  Another reason financial exploitation isn’t reported is the perpetrator is a family member, and the senior doesn’t want to see them get in trouble.  

Where can you go for help?

If you or a loved one thinks they have been the victim of a scam, there are ways to get help. You can call your local police department or call 1-800-677-1116 to reach the Eldercare Locator. This government-sponsored national resource line helps folks find contact information for Adult Protective Services in their area. Here are some more resources to keep handy:

FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center 

Federal Trade Commission 

National Institute of Justice 

National Adult Protective Services Association

[1] https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/cleveland-oh-78/cleveland_oh_78/senior-alerts/government-grant-scammers-using-your-friends-facebook-profiles.pdf

[2] https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/cleveland-oh-78/cleveland_oh_78/senior-alerts/brook-park-man-loses-$80000-in-tech-support-scam.pdf

[3] https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/cleveland-oh-78/cleveland_oh_78/senior-alerts/fraudsters-charged-in-$10-million-tech-support-scheme.pdf

[4] https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/cleveland-oh-78/cleveland_oh_78/senior-alerts/from-love-to-jail_-romance-scams-and-money-mules.pdf

[5] https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303821

[6] https://www.napsa-now.org/get-informed/exploitation-resources/

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