The Chambersburg Police Department, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, presented a class on Elderly Financial Scams at the Franklin County Office of Aging on Thursday, July 7th.
Financial Elder Abuse
Financial fraud is the fastest-growing form of elder abuse. Broadly defined, financial elder abuse is when someone illegally or improperly uses a vulnerable senior’s money or other property. Most states now have laws that make elder financial abuse a crime and provide ways to help the senior and punish the scammer.
Common Financial Scams
Catfishing scam. Catfishing is when someone steals from someone they’ve ‘met’ online. Today, many seniors turn to online services and social media to make romantic or friendly connections. However, some alleged suitors or friends are just people hanging around the web waiting to prey on elderly individuals who are lonely. These scammers may endear themselves to the elderly person — and then ask them for money to help with an emergency like to bail them out of jail or make a flight back to the United States. Most often, scammers will never meet the elderly person and are located someplace other than where they claimed to be.
Telemarketing or mail fraud. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that dishonest telemarketers take in an estimated $40 billion each year, bilking one in six American consumers — and the AARP claims that about 80% of them are 50 or older. Scammers use the phone to conduct investment and credit card fraud, lottery scams, and identity theft. Another form of this senior citizen fraud is when scammers use the phone to sell seniors goods that either never arrive or are worthless junk.
Phishing scam. Phishing is when a criminal uses fake emails, calls, or texts to steal a victim’s personal information. In one common phishing scam, an elderly person will receive an email that says it is from the person’s bank or investment account and that the elder needs to update their information. This is just a ploy to get the elder’s information and steal their identity.
Social Security spoofing scam. Scammers contact elderly people by phone and claim that the victim’s Social Security number has been suspended due to suspicious activity and ask the victim to confirm their number or risk the possibility that the number will be seized. The scammers are sophisticated and may use caller ID spoofing to make it look like they are calling from the Social Security Administration.
Internet fraud. Some older people are slow to embrace new technology, which is why they are sometimes targeted in internet scams. Seniors may download a fake anti-virus program or viruses by clicking on pop-up windows. This action allows scammers to extract personal information about the senior.
Fraudulent legal documents. Many scammers cloak their actions in legal authority, procuring power of attorney or will or other legal document giving them access to a senior’s property. They get seniors to sign these documents by lying to, intimidating, or threatening the seniors.
Texting scam. A scammer texts the victim deceptive messages to try to get the elder person to provide their personal or financial information. For example, the scammer might promise a prize to the first 100 people who respond to the message. The scammer then uses the information to steal the elder’s identity or commit fraud.
Grandparent scam. In this situation, a scammer calls the elderly person and pretends to be their grandchild. The grandchild will then ask for money for an unexpected financial problem like not having money for rent, medical bills, or car repairs. The scammer will plead with the grandparent not to tell their parent.
Undue influence or fraud. Many seniors have been duped into parting with their homes or other property because a scammer convinces them it is for their good. In one infamous case, three officials from the Detroit-based Guardian Inc. were found guilty of embezzlement and fraud after selling a client’s house for $500 — to the mother of a company officer. The company also collected excessive fees from its wards, sometimes as high as 70 percent of their Social Security checks.
Lottery scam. Scammers inform elderly victims that they have won the lottery or sweepstakes — but they just need to pay taxes or other fees before the rest of the money will be released. They might even send a check to the victim to make it seem more real, but the check will just bounce.
In one of these scams in Canada, the U.S. Attorney General and the Solicitor General of Canada estimated that scammers were able to steal about $1 billion a year from its citizens.
Home repair scam. Typically working in teams of two or more, scammers scour neighborhoods with a high concentration of older residents, or even track recent widows and widowers through obituaries and death notices, then appear on their doorsteps claiming to spot something in need of fixing — a hole in the roof or clogged drainpipe, for example.
The scammers demand payment upfront, and then often claim that their initial investigation reveals a more serious problem, with a more expensive solution. The “work” they do is unlicensed and often shoddy, such as applying paint to a roof to make it appear as if it has been tangibly fixed.
In a twist on this scam, one alleged worker might distract the elder while another enters the house to steal money and other valuables.
What to Look Out For
- Unusual or large withdrawals or transfers from bank accounts, or large credit card charges that the older person can’t explain.
- Checks that are missing or include suspicious signatures.
- An individual who suddenly forms a close relationship with the older person, getting easy access to his or her home, money, and other property.
- Newly executed documents, such as a will or power of attorney, that the older person doesn’t seem to understand.
- Changes in account beneficiaries or authorized signers.
- A large number of unpaid bills.
- Missing property.
- Entry forms and prizes from contests, and payments made for “free” vacations or other merchandise.
- Untreated physical or mental problems, including a dramatic change in mood or disposition, or other evidence of substandard care.
- Sudden social isolation.
Reporting Suspected Financial Abuse
Notify bank personnel. Depending on the type and extent of financial abuse involved, giving a heads up to the bank tellers and officers who commonly handle the elder’s accounts may be enough to stop the wrongdoing. Bank employees are often in a good position to note suspicious activity, such as a sudden withdrawal of large sums of money or the use of an ATM card by an elder who is housebound.
The laws in most states encourage or require bank officials to report suspected elder financial abuse. And federal law requires financial institutions to file a Suspicious Activity Report with the federal government when they suspect elder financial abuse.
If any Borough resident believes they are being scammed please contact the Chambersburg Police Department at 717-264-4131.