Protecting Seniors from Holiday Scammers
With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s not just family and friends that are all around us; the scammers are waiting in the shadows as well.
According to an Experian blog posted in 2020, one in four people fall victim to fraud during the holidays and one in five have experienced pandemic-related scams. These thieves often target the elderly – people aged 70 or more tend to suffer larger financial losses than those below 70. So how can we protect our Seniors from becoming victims of fraud this holiday season?
Financial Eldercare Begins With You
Nothing is foolproof, but taking the below steps may help your family members avoid dangerous websites and reduce the number of unwanted calls from spammers, robocallers, and telemarketers.
Online shopping is an area of concern, costing seniors millions of dollars yearly. Fraudsters set up websites that trick seniors and others by looking like authentic name-brand sites with rock-bottom prices for a variety of products. Web visitors who submit their payment information may have their data stolen, and the products they thought they purchased never arrive.
Remind your senior family members and friends to double-check the site name and make sure they match the company’s official name (e.g., adiaas.com is not adidas.com). And as always, if it looks too good to be true, it likely is.
Red flag warnings
If a senior you know is taking a call or reading a text or email, make sure they recognize the red flags that indicate they could be communicating with someone running a scam.
Often cyber thieves will try to add urgency to their messages. They’ll claim a Netflix account or cable subscription is temporarily suspended and use phrases like “Please update your billing immediately at” and include a link no one should click on. Or they will send a text stating “your $1200 iphone order has been processed…..”
They often take shots in the dark, naming power companies in the area or other companies whose services are generally used. It’s a shotgun approach designed to cause a potential victim to panic and give up information.
Teach your family to spot texts and emails that are poorly written. In many of these, the language seems off, the spacing is peculiar, or it just doesn’t look like something a legitimate corporation would send. If you did not order the $1,200 iphone, do not click on that link.
Urgent messages with sloppy grammar are likely to be a scam. Remember, these swindlers thrive on causing fear and urgency, so remind the seniors in your life not to panic, and that nothing is urgent enough to pay without double-checking first.
Blocking unwanted texts and calls
Help your more senior family members block unwanted calls and text messages. Con artists will use suspicious phone numbers to robocall and leave urgent messages to act now. Block phone numbers from unwanted callers on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) National Do Not Call Registry, and filter and report unwanted text messages.
What to Do When Fraud Occurs
In the unfortunate situation where a senior is a victim of a scam, there are still actions you can take.
California Penal Code Section 368 protects our elders, as well as citizens with physical or mental disabilities.
The law specifically addresses in Section 368:
(d.) financial penalties and/or imprisonment for those who are not caretakers – who engage in theft, embezzlement, forgery or fraud of the elderly or disabled. Section 368
(e.) carries similar penalties for caretakers who steal or defraud the elderly and disabled.
California law defines an “elder” as someone who is 65 or older. The section defines a “caretaker” as someone “who has the care, custody or control of, or who stands in a position of trust with, and elder or dependent adult.”
You can report such thefts, frauds, forgeries or embezzled funds to the local police and/or state law enforcement. And be sure to report the scam to the FTC, contact the bank or credit card company to cancel the card, and divulge what occurred to the company or organization being impersonated.
Taking the above actions may result in a refund, and help the authorities catch the thieves. Reporting these scams can be embarrassing but reporting and talking about these events can also help give others a heads-up so they don’t fall victim to the same crimes.
In the meantime, take the necessary precautions, watch out for the red flags from mysterious callers, texters, and emailers, and when in doubt, take a step back and double-check if the person on the other side is really who they say they are.
Kira S. Masteller is a Trust & Estate Planning attorney.