Seniors, Scams and Identity Theft

Seniors, Scams and Identity Theft

Fortune Magazine Online recently posted an article about Florida entitled: “This region is the fraud capital of America.” According to the Federal Trade Commission, Florida ranks first in identity theft complaints at about 193 per 100,000 residents in 2013. But that’s dwarfed by the greater Miami area, which had 340 complaints per 100,000 residents that year.

Individuals 65+ are 34% more likely to have lost money in a scam that people in their 40’s.

“Sucker Lists” – people who have responded to a scam – are now sold on the black market which means they will be targets from highly sophisticated and ever-increasing globally generated scams.

What do we do to protect ourselves and our seniors? Below are just some of the most common scams and the latest scams to help you and your loved ones staff as safe as possible.


The Grandparents Scam: One of the most common – but still one of the most successful scams is this one. The senior gets a call saying, “Hi Grandma (or Grandpa), do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent says the name of the grandchild, the scammer says yes and I’m in trouble (need to pay rent, had a car accident, in jail, etc.) and please don’t tell Mom or Dad. Would you just wire me money to take care of this and I’ll pay you back? They then direct the grandparent to wire the money via Western Union or MoneyGram.


These scammers often get information from social media websites or other sites that have listings of seniors.


Medicare Card Identity Theft/Fraud: The scammer poses as a Medicare representative and says their cards must be replaced. The government NEVER asks for this information. Seniors should never give out their Medicare or Social Security numbers.


By the way, the person’s Medicare number is the same as their Social Security number with a letter at the end – maximizing the opportunity for identity theft. No one should carry either their Social Security care or their Medicare card in their wallet. When seeing a new physician bring the card; then once home, put it back in a safe place – not in your wallet!


Email Message Fraud: Seniors receive a message asking them to verify or update their personal information, or a notice from one of their credit card companies that looks legitimate saying there may have been fraudulent charges on their card or the get notices about a tax refund. These messages are trying to get at the senior’s information that will enable the perpetrator to open accounts or worse, sell the information on the black market.


Lottery/Sweepstakes/Helping Heir to Estate or Someone Dying Scams: More email fraud variations. In the first two, seniors are told they have won money or a prize but in order to receive it they need to provide personal information such as their bank account and routing number; or they receive a fake check, which takes days to process, and the scammer asks them to pay fees or taxes on the money.


In the last one, the senior receives an email saying they are the heir to a long-lost relative’s estate or that they are dying that they have very little time left, they want to give the $5+ million to a charity and they want the senior to administer the money and the senior will receive a percentage as compensation as soon as the senior contacts them to find out how to proceed (or some variation).


Most of us know these are not real people, but seniors do not always realize this, want to help or for other reasons respond.


Sweetheart Scam: This scam is similar to the one above. It plays on the lonely senior who is trying dating websites to meet a companion. These are ‘fake’ sweethearts. As is the case above, these are ‘Nigerian’ scams – cyber criminals. They ask for money to come and visit, or to get ‘home’ from vacation in Europe after their wallet, passport, etc. has been stolen. They often talk to the senior over the phone, meet with them over Skype – using a paid person to be the ‘companion.’ They ask for funds to be sent my MoneyGram or Western Union in amounts always under $10,000 to ensure the U.S. government is not notified. They also ask for personal information about neighbors, family members and anyone else that is then used for scams directed at those people.


This is a particularly scary scam as the perpetrators are outside of the U.S. They develop long-term relationships with seniors, often receive hundreds of thousands of dollars and get enormous amounts of information from them about themselves, their families, friends and neighbors putting many more at risk.


Fake Check Scam: The seniors use online websites to sell items they no longer need. They receive a response offering a cashier’s check made out for the asking price or sometimes more than the asking price. The senior sells the item, ships it only to find the check is fake.


Newest Scams – Direct Phone Calls: Some of the latest scams involve ‘robo’ calls to seniors. Once the senior answers the phone the caller says are you on your computer? Whether the answer is yes or no, the caller says I’m calling from Microsoft (or other brand) and we have determined that you have a virus. You need to go to your computer. They then say they can repair the virus right now by having access to the computer through sites such as TeamViewer or LogMeIn. They then take control of the computer, load a program so they can capture all key strokes including user names and passwords.   Or they demand a ‘ransom’ to return your computer to you. Options are: 1) shut down the computer, never open it again, buy a new computer and start over; 2) hire a competent, reputable computer repair firm.


Another type of ‘robo’ call is from the U.S. Government – the IRS or Social Security and has a caller ID with an area code of 202 – the DC area code. They say you have a problem with your account and they need information to correct it. They want your social security number and other private information.


These scams are becoming common. The caller does not have the person’s name. The caller is off-shore and usually has a non-U.S. accent. Hang up immediately. If the senior is reluctant to hang up on the caller, they should tell the caller they can’t talk and will call them back and ask for the callback number – upon which the call goes dead.


A newer scam is the senior is called and told the caller is from the electric company and their electricity will be turned off in 15 minutes if they don’t pay their bill right now via credit card. The senior is scared and nearly always gives them the credit card, expiration date and CVV code.


There is no shortage of scams and identity theft schemes aimed at seniors. There are many others from counterfeit medications to home repairs, funeral and cemetery scams to investment and reverse mortgage scams. To help the seniors in your life be safe, when they need services such as repairs, investments, funerals, reverse mortgages use trusted referrals. Talk to them about their medications, where they are getting them and their safety. Communication with seniors is key.