The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging has issued a new report, Fighting Fraud: Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting our Nation's Seniors. The report is based on the complaints received by the committee's national fraud hotline, 855-303-9470.
Expect scams to change over time: Once the public gets wise or a new technology comes along to protect the public, resourceful fraudsters often figure out a workaround so they can continue their nefarious work. Here are the current top ten scams identified by the committee:
1. Internal Revenue Service impersonation scams were the most frequent reason for complaints. How it works: You receive a call from someone who claims to be an IRS agent. The caller demands payment for overdue taxes or penalties. Adverse consequences such as home foreclosure or arrest are threatened. The caller will often have a "202" area code in the phone number, making it appear as if the call is coming from Washington, D.C. Because the IRS has been working hard in recent years to inform the public that it does not make phone calls, scammers are now telling potential victims that their call is to "follow up" on a letter that was previously sent.
2. Sweepstakes scams are a classic. How it works: You are contacted and told you have gotten lucky and won some sort of prize. Of course, the "winner" must pay a fee to claim it. Remember: there are no free lunches!
3. Robocalls of all types clock in at number three. Despite the national Do Not Call Registry and state registries, these annoyances remain with us, now invading cell phones. too. The Federal Trade Commission continues to search for methods to stem the tide.
4. Computer scams tend to reel in victims at a higher rate than other types of attempted fraud. How it works: You are contacted by someone who claims to represent a high-profile tech company such as Microsoft or Apple. The caller states that a software virus has been identified and asks for remote control of your computer to fix the problem. Don't fall for it!
5. Identity theft continues unabated. Tax identity theft is the most frequent type. You find out your identity has been stolen when you file your taxes and discover they have already been filed in your name, and the refund taken. Medical identity theft is another form, in which your personal data is used by fraudsters to secure medical services, prescriptions and more. The upcoming phaseout of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards should help make a dent in this kind of fraud.
6. The grandparent scam is designed to tug at your heartstrings. How it works: You get a call that your grandchild is in trouble and needs money to be wired immediately. It could be a medical emergency or you might be told your grandchild is in jail.
7. Elder financial abuse. Our elder law and estate planning attorneys hear many stories of older people being victimized in this way. Those in cognitive decline who are socially isolated are prime victims. Often it is the very people we trust the most - family and caregivers - who do the ripping off. Fortunately, there are several legal steps you can take before incapacity strikes to protect yourself against financial victimization. These steps can include setting up a living trust with multiple successor trustees, a durable power of attorney and other related documents. If you or your spouse are already experiencing cognitive decline (loss of memory, difficulty handling daily tasks, disorientation at times, etc.), you may want to resign off as trustee and authorize your successor trustee and agent under your power of attorney to act for you now. Call our firm for advice on these matters.
8. Grant scam. How it Works: A caller tells you he/she represents some official-sounding but fictitious agency, such as the "Federal Grants Administration." You are told that the federal government has grant money waiting for you that can help you cover educational expenses, student loans, home repairs, etc. Or there may be an ad in a newspaper advertising the same thing. It's all "free" money that you don't need to pay back. You have to submit a fee of some sort to get it.
9. Romance scams are becoming increasingly common as more people, young and old alike, log on to online dating services to find companionship. How it works: The fraudster will try to cultivate an online "romance," often coming up with a variety of reasons to avoid meeting. Eventually, your love interest asks for money to travel to meet you, or asks for a loan to help with an emergency.
10. Home improvement scams tend to be particularly successful with seniors who live alone and/or are disabled. How it works: Someone shows up at your door and for a really good price offers to trim your trees, paint your house, install an alarm system because of robberies going on in your neighborhood, pressure clean your driveway, etc. The person does a substandard job or no job at all. It's very common in the wake of hurricanes. Be careful!The official report contains more detailed information and tips on protecting yourself from fraud. You can view it and download it here.