Protect Yourself––You Could Be a Target
Courtesy DATU Credit Union, Denton County LIVING WELL Magazine
Most Americans are caring, compassionate, and trusting. That, coupled with major changes in technology, a sluggish economy, and an aging population, makes financial scams that target seniors so widespread that they are now considered “the crime of the 21st century,” according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). People don’t want to admit that they got scammed so these crimes often go unreported and are very difficult to prosecute. It’s devastating to vulnerable older adults. Folks save their entire life for their retirement and a slick talking scam artist can con them out of years of their savings. The Financial Fraud Research Center at Stanford University estimates the cost of financial fraud to Americans is in the range of $40 billion to $50 billion dollars each year.
Most of us probably think we are too savvy to be caught up in a scam, but think again. Below are some of today’s most popular scams as reported by the NCOA:
- Counterfeit prescription drug internet scams are a growing trend. These online pharmacies offer better prices on specialized medicines that are often fake and contaminated. Some reports indicate that there are upwards of 40,000 of these fly-by-night internet pharmacies. Make sure you are dealing with a reputable company. I suggest you check with your health care provider about reliable websites.
- Healthcare, Medicare, and health insurance fraud is one of the most costly scams being enacted on people today. Because every U.S. citizen over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, those individuals are an easy target.
- Beware of internet pop-up browsers that simulate virus-scanning software. Many times victims are fooled into downloading a fake anti-virus program that opens up your personal information to scammers. A recent one is an e-mail that wants to confirm your airline reservation (one you didn’t make), a UPS package, or a problem with your bank account. You click on it and malware takes control of your computer.
- Investment schemes abound. Individuals are promised inheritance money and even complex financial products. The scammer gives a tempting pitch for an investment product that can be very enticing to many seniors who have seen their retirement accounts decline in the last few years. The result is very often an untraceable loss of your money. Consult your trusted financial advisor before investing and get personal referrals from someone you trust.
- Our homes are often our most valuable asset. Scam artists like to take advantage of folks with scams concerning reverse mortgages. Beware.
- The lottery or sweepstakes scam is old as the hills, yet year after year people are targeted. Often, seniors are sent a check that they deposit into their financial institution. Between the time of the deposit and the time the check clears, the criminal will collect fees or taxes on the prize (often a trip or a car) which they pocket. When the check bounces (or is returned unpaid), the senior is left holding the bag.
- So many of us rule with our hearts. Often, older folks receive a call from someone who says “Granddad /Grandma, do you know who this is?” and they will respond with a grandchild’s name. The “scammer” on the other end acknowledges that they are correct and says they need money for an unexpected problem, like an accident, and the money needs to be sent via Western Union or Money Gram.
Here are a few suggestions to help ensure that you or someone you love is not a victim:
- Realize that you are a target––we all are.
- Stay involved with friends, family, and community activities. Being isolated from others makes you vulnerable.
- When a stranger calls you or comes to your door, don’t be afraid to say, “I never buy or give information to anyone who contacts me from out the blue.” Then hang up the phone or shut the door.
- Shred everything! This includes your credit card receipts, utility bills, or anything that contains sensitive information.
- Go to donotcall.gov and sign up for the “Do Not Call” list. This should keep telemarketers from calling you. And if it doesn’t, beware. Legitimate companies will follow the law about contacting you if you are on this list.
- NEVER ever give out your social security number, credit card or bank account information, Medicare information or anything personal to anyone. The only exception is if you initiate the call and it is absolutely necessary that you provide this information. Even then, I recommend exercising caution. Be skeptical. That shows that you’re savvy and simply put––just plain smart. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
One last point that I think should be made. Strangers are not the only ones who carry out these crimes. It is not uncommon to find that fraud and abuse of older folks is by family members like adult children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. If you ever have a question or concern, do not be afraid to contact your financial institution or the authorities and ask questions.
Dale Kimble, President / CEO of DATCU Credit Union, can reached at 866-387-8585.