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Beware – New Elder Scam On The Rise

January 2021 | Valerie A. Burg, Esq.
In these uncertain times, it can often be overwhelming to be mindful of all we need to do to keep ourselves safe. We are asked to be vigilant in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. Now, more than ever, we must be equally proactive in taking steps to protect our financial well-being against scam artists and thieves who prey upon our vulnerabilities.
We are all subject to unsolicited telephone calls that we can easily spot as scams such as when we are asked for payment to extend an expiring warranty for a vehicle we never even owned. What happens, though, when you receive a call from a seemingly credible looking phone number?
Scam artists are using spoofing technology in a variety of scams to steal your money and personal information. Even though many of us have become more discerning when answering our phones, spoofing technology provides a scam artist with the tools to not only conceal their true identity but cause the caller ID to display false information such as an actual agency name and telephone number. It is best not to speak with these callers at all; you can always listen to a voicemail and take the time to investigate how credible the caller is. You should never provide personal or financial information to unknown callers.

There are even IRS telephone spoofing scams where victims are told they must pay taxes immediately. Scammers will use a telephone number that looks like an IRS telephone number and make it look like they are calling from Washington, D.C. Scammers may identify themselves with a false badge number, even knowing the last four digits of your Social Security number and then following up with fake IRS emails.

Victims are threatened with potential arrest, revocation of their driver’s license or disconnection of utilities if the tax bill is not paid immediately. These thieves will call you repeatedly, leaving “urgent” messages that become more and more hostile.

Do not engage with them and do not provide any information to them. Instead, contact the IRS at its published number if you think you owe taxes. You can also check with your accountant as tax preparers are often aware of such scams. It’s important to know the IRS will typically contact you by written correspondence and not harass you by phone or email, at least not initially.

While many of us are concerned with the wellness and safety of our families and neighbors, this pandemic has presented thieves and scam artists with unique opportunities to defraud and steal – and scams related to COVID-19 are on the rise.

You may receive a phony alert from the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization directing you to click on links offering COVID-19 updates, testing and treatment kits. In order to access this information, you may be asked to donate to a specific charity or, worse, provide sensitive information such as your Medicare number, passwords or usernames. Do not provide them.

Some COVID-19 scams present themselves as “investment opportunities” and the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) has issued a warning about online promotions of companies claiming they can prevent, detect or cure the virus. The SEC cautions the public to be aware of fake investments and bogus certificates of deposit offering high returns. Be wary of unsolicited emails and offerings and be particularly careful if foreign or “offshore” investments are involved.

You should watch for red flags such as bold statements like “Guaranteed Returns” and “Huge Upside and Almost No Risk” along with artificial deadlines such as “Once in a Lifetime Offer.” Always resist the offer to invest right away and conduct your own independent research.

With the ever-increasing popularity of social media and our reliance on technology to conduct the most basic tasks, we have become quite comfortable not only sharing personal information but documenting both the mundane and more exciting aspects of our daily lives. This willingness to share may make us susceptible to a host of scams that are being perpetrated daily upon countless unsuspecting individuals.

Thieves also seek to capitalize on our concern for family, our hopes and dreams of finding that special someone or even winning the lottery. Grandparents are now being targeted in a scam where an imposter calls under the pretense that the grandchild has been arrested, in an accident or even stranded overseas. The imposter may be crying to disguise their voice and plead with their grandparents not to reveal what has transpired, lest they upset their parents. The unsuspecting grandparent will then be urged to wire money immediately or to read codes from gift cards.

Scammers will target those who appear emotionally vulnerable and will troll for victims online by using the very information posted on their target’s social media pages. It is easy for scam artists to endear themselves to a victim by pretending to have common interests when they can find a virtual itinerary of a person’s daily activities by looking at their social media profiles.

Dating scammers will attempt to establish a relationship quickly to gain the victim’s trust, even going so far as to propose marriage. Once a connection is made, the scammer will try to meet their target in person – but that meeting will never happen. Instead, they will ask for money for an emergency such as medical expenses or to cover the costs of getting a visa or buying a plane ticket.

It’s always important to go slowly and ask a lot of questions. Be leery of someone trying to isolate you from loved ones or asking for inappropriate information. Some typical signs of this type of scam include: professing their love quickly, claiming to be from overseas, insisting on taking all conversations off a dating site, planning to visit but never being able to because of issues that come up, and finally, asking you to wire money to them or pay with reloadable gifts cards.

Sweepstakes scammers will call, text or email their targets congratulating them on winning a lottery, drawing or sweepstakes they have not even entered. You may even receive a fake but very real looking check as an advance on your winnings. The only catch is that you must pay a small fee upfront to cover processing fees or taxes. If you did not purchase a ticket, it is probably a scam.
Avoid anyone asking you to wire funds or pay money upfront to get your prize. A legitimate sweepstakes will never ask for your bank or credit card information. Education is the best way to protect you and your loved ones from fraud. If you hear of a scam, warn family and friends and report the scam.

11 tips to protect yourself from scams:

1. Think before you act!

2. Verify the caller’s identity.

3. Protect your social media accounts by using privacy settings to limit how much information can be seen by others.

4. Be wise when choosing friends or contacts on a social media site. It might seem great to have a lot of friends or followers but not if it poses a risk to your finances.

5. Pick a strong password, keep it safe and change it frequently! Use different passwords for different accounts.

6. Be careful of accessing your social media on public wireless connections. It is very easy for thieves to “eavesdrop” on Internet traffic to steal passwords and other sensitive data on a public wireless network.

7. Never give out account information, Social Security numbers, bank information or other sensitive financial information to anyone you don’t know. Your Medicare number should only be given to your doctor or medical care provider.

8. Never respond to threats.

9. Never donate or pay for an offered service using a gift card, wire transfer or cash to someone or an entity that you don’t know.

10. Keep your anti-malware software operating and updated.

11. Always report a suspected scam.

If you have any questions about the matters discussed in this article or would like a consultation regarding your estate planning matters, please contact your Legal Service Plan’s National Legal Office at 800-292-8063.

Article written with contribution from Manda Kristal, Financial Exploitation & Abuse Program Coordinator, DCJS, FCA, Senior Financial Counselor, Family & Children’s Association. Contact Ms. Kristal with any questions at 516-485-3425, ext. 2333 or mkristal@fcali.org.