What Can Our Organization Do to Help Protect Seniors From Fraud and Identity Theft?
I am a volunteer coordinator for the Meals on Wheels program in my city. Several of us in the office have noticed a disturbing trend among our clients: more and more of them have become victims of financial scams. It is troubling to see vulnerable seniors being taken advantage of this way.
We would like to pull together information we can share with our volunteers on the topic. Some weeks the volunteers who deliver meals are the only visitors these homebound seniors have. We feel it’s important to educate our volunteers so they can, in turn, educate the clients they have developed close bonds with.
Do you have any information and resources you can share with us on seniors, identity theft and fraud?
Protecting Older Adults from Financial Scams
What a great idea for a much-needed community outreach! AARP estimates are that one in five seniors has been the victim of fraud. And they think that number may actually be on the low side since older adults are often too embarrassed to let family members know what happened to them.
All it takes is a few nights of watching the evening news to discover that seniors are common targets of fraud and scams. There are a variety of reasons why that is the case.
In general, this generation is more trusting and polite. Older adults, especially those who live alone, may be willing to spend time talking with a stranger. This is true whether it is an in-person con artist or one who calls on the phone. Many seniors have a hard time being what they consider to be rude, such as closing the door or hanging up the phone on a salesperson.
I would suggest you begin by sharing the most common types of fraud committed against seniors. While new scams pop up all the time, a few to make volunteers aware of include:
• The Grandparent Scam: This is when a criminal calls a senior pretending to be a grandchild in trouble. In some instances, they are aware of the grandchild’s name and use it. The scammer tells the senior they need a credit card number or to have money wired to them immediately and begs them not to tell their “parent.” Frightened seniors panic and comply. It’s important to explain this scam to older adults. If a grandparent finds themselves in this situation, they should know to tell their “grandchild” they are ending the conversation and will call them right back.
• IRS Tax Scam: As tax day approaches, this scam typically heats up. A person claiming to be an IRS agent will call the older adult at home or on their cell. The scammer will claim the senior has an outstanding balance with the IRS and will be arrested if payment isn’t made by phone. This is why we need to remind older adults that the IRS will never call them on the phone to ask for money.
• Email Scam: The majority of our seniors now take advantage of email to keep in touch with friends and family. Some also have online accounts with their financial institutions. This puts them at risk for phishing scams if they aren’t vigilant. How it works is a group of cyber criminals create fake websites that closely resemble legitimate ones. They purchase email lists through fraudulent sources and then email everyone on the list. The email will contain a link advising them to “update their account” but the link actually leads to the fake site. The trouble is, it will all look very genuine and the senior may fall for it. Once the older adult logs in to the fake site, the scammer grabs their personal information. It’s essential that seniors who use email know to never follow links contained in an email. Instead, they should login directly at the company’s website.
We have a few resources we think will help you and your volunteers learn more:
• The Department of Justice created an Elder Justice Initiative. They share a variety of resources including some you can use for training community volunteers.
• We also suggest you connect with your local law enforcement agencies. Like the FBI, they are often active on social media. Following them will help you stay updated on the very latest concerns in your own community. They may also be able to help connect you with local block watch program volunteers.
I would also like to share that Benchmark Senior Living offers non-medical Home Visits. We can help a senior and their family identify in-home challenges and connect them with the necessary resources.
Best of luck with your outreach program, Karen!