Senior Scams: Four real stories from clients

Senior Scams: Four real stories from clients

We’ve been talking with our senior clients—and our clients with senior family members—about the rise in scams targeting the over-65 crowd.

The surge in senior financial fraud is troubling. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau saw “Suspicious Activity Reports” quadruple between 2013 and 2017. These SARs come from financial service providers who suspected older clients were being exploited; they total more than $6 billion. And that’s just what the financial industry is reporting. Research shows 1 in 20 seniors say their money has been mistreated recently—and only 1 in 44 cases are ever reported.

Sometimes the victim and/or their families simply don’t notice the theft. Or victims can feel ashamed they were tricked and fear that telling someone will lead to losing control over their own finances. More concerning, sometimes the thief is a close friend or family member, which makes confrontation complicated.

Younger generations may assume these frauds work because their victims are naive or experiencing cognitive decline. But these scammers are sophisticated. It’s also possible seniors are targeted just because they are easier to find: older Americans are more likely to have their phone numbers listed.

We are encouraging families to talk about how these senior scams work and put measures in place to guard against them.

Here are four real stories from our clients that illustrate all-too-common fraud tactics:

  • Computer Trouble: Scammers call numbers pretending to be an IT service firm. They pretend they were contacted by that number and are calling back to help. And, fancy that, a good percentage of the numbers they call are having computer troubles. Our client had reached out for legitimate tech help, so she assumed the call was in response. They told her the computer just needed an upgrade, and all it took was her credit card number and remote access to her machine. Like many of us would do, she accepted what seemed like a helpful solution. Right after she hung up, she realized it was too good to be true and sprung into action. She called her credit card company to get the charge reversed and changed all her cards. She had the computer wiped and restored from a backup. It was a hassle, but thankfully there was no lasting damage.
  • Credit Card Theft: It’s happened to most of us: we notice a strange charge on our statement and discover someone has been taking our number for a joy ride. Unfortunately, some seniors see their credit dishonestly used by family members or caretakers. Seniors who have physical impairments are especially susceptible to this kind of theft, but healthy, active seniors can be targets as well. For example, one of our client’s sons maxed out a credit card without permission and without her knowledge. It was hard for her to call what happened to her “theft” because she was close to her son, who was having financial problems, but that’s exactly what it was. She ended up having a stern talk with him and changing out all her cards.
  • The Grandchild Scam: This sadly classic trick features a caller impersonating a grandchild. They’ll start with, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the target responds, “Is this [fill-in-grandchild’s-name-here]?” the caller launches into a sob story about being wrongly arrested and needing to post bail. Or the caller might pretend to be a lawyer representing the “arrested” grandchild. In all cases, they ask for money—fast. One of our clients got a call like this and had the presence of mind to call her grandson to double check the claim before sending any money. Guess what? He was fine and very much not in jail. Fortunately, no money changed hands.
  • Email Impersonators: Hackers gain access to an email account, then comb through it to find both personal and financial data they can exploit. One of our advisors got an email from a client’s address that asked for $25,000 to be transferred to a new account for a new-car purchase. The email included some friendly personal questions and allusions to earlier emails. It also included a few uncharacteristic misspellings and that fishy request for cash. Even without those red flags, Sound Stewardship’s policy is to never send money without having a verbal conversation with our client. The advisor called the real client, who confirmed he knew nothing about the request.  

In our next blog post, we cover the ways seniors and their families can protect themselves against scams like these, including using robust password management, knowing how to check and freeze your credit, having a solid financial team in place, and setting up “Trusted Contacts” at your financial institutions.

Want to talk about combating senior scams now? Our advisors would be happy to have that conversation with you. Get in touch today!

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