Telemarketing/phone scams and grandparent scams rank fifth and 10th respectively on the National Council on Aging's top 10 list of financial scams targeting seniors.
MIAMI – We all fear the call. The phone rings and a voice on the other end tells you a family member is in trouble. While there should be little reason to hesitate when a loved one is in need, modern technology has made it easy for scammers to use that instinct against some of the most vulnerable amongst us – seniors.
According to studies conducted by the Consumer Law Center, Inc. (CLC), fraudulent telemarketers direct anywhere from 56 percent to nearly 80 percent of their calls at older customers. Sadly, the CLC studies also reveal that the frequency of scams preying on the elderly has been steadily increasing over the last decade, making awareness all the more important.
But why are seniors targeted? According to the FBI’s Common Fraud Schemes segment, seniors are singled out for the following reasons:
• Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
• People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
• Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
• When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. Also, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even harder to remember details from the events.
• Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.
Although financial scammers often target seniors, caretakers and other family members ignorant to these types of schemes can also find themselves unwitting co-victims. One Miami resident called the News-Record office to relay how a senior member of the family and their grandchildren had recently fallen prey to telephone scammers.
Telemarketing/phone scams and grandparent scams rank fifth and 10th respectively on the National Council on Aging's top 10 list of financial scams targeting seniors. Both approaches often find success because they rope unsuspecting targets in by using the intended victim's family as bait. Worse, if a scammer is successful, they will often sell or share their victim’s information with other con artists.
When family is the bait
Two of the most insidious ploys scammers use to con seniors out of their money are fake accidents and pretending to be a grandchild or great-grandchild.
With the fake accident ploy, a scammer will call and tell the victim a family member has been in an accident and is unable to contact them directly. They will then direct the victim to wire money claiming the funds are needed to cover expenses for the relative that has been hospitalized. Often they will use manipulative tactics, such as framing the accident as being the result of the relative being engaged in an activity that is either illegal or otherwise shameful. In this way, the con artist can justify the need for larger sums while also ensuring their marks are less likely to seek outside input before sending funds.
The grandparent ploy preys on victim’s with the con artist either pretending to be a grandchild or calling on behalf of a grandchild. NOCA reports this scam uses a very simple but effective method for misleading seniors and having them comply with sending money with little or no questions.
As an example, a con artist will call and simply state something along the lines of “Hi Grandma, guess who?” or “Hi Grandpa, do you know who this is?” With that opening the scammer has established themselves as trusted family members and will steer the conversation toward a request for money, usually to resolve a fake financial emergency. As with the fake accident scam, the caller will attempt to manipulate the victim into not disclosing the transfer of funds to others by saying they fear repercussions from their parents or that the emergency requiring the money would cause them to be publicly shamed or expelled from school.
No shame in stopping their game
NOCA encourages seniors not to be afraid or embarrassed if they suspect that they have been the victim of a scam. The council advises seniors to talk to someone they trust or to reach out to local authorities such as the police, their bank, or area Adult Protective Service for assistance.
Scammers count on the shame of their victims to help cover their tracks or leave their targets vulnerable to future crimes. It is therefore vitally important that seniors and their family members report even suspected scams to the authorities, and alert trusted friends and extended family about incidents that they should be on the lookout for.
For contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government-sponsored national resource line, at 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website at www.eldercare.gov.