March 15th is World Consumer Rights Day
As business professionals, we’ve all contacted a customer or client when an error occurs or an adjustment needs to be made. Often it turns out to be a simple error, and the customers are thrilled when you point out the mistake—especially when it saves them money or time.
That’s what 79-year-old “Judith” thought was happening, when she received a call from someone claiming to be an Amazon employee. The woman on the phone wanted to verify a suspicious $8,000 purchase that Judith hadn’t made. The senior was relieved when the caller offered to transfer her call to file a report with the state police and the treasury department. All Judith had to do was provide some personal data and her banking information, and they’d take care of the rest.
As you may have already guessed, this call wasn’t actually from a concerned Amazon employee. It was a scam, and the “officials” she spoke with were rip-off artists. Judith was bilked out of more than $29,000, and she’s not alone.
Scam artists like these give legitimate businesses a bad name—and fraud is becoming increasingly prevalent. According to the FBI, senior scams cost elderly Americans more than $3 billion every year, and the typical scam for a victim over age 80 costs $1,700 or more.
World Consumer Rights Day was inspired by President John F. Kennedy, who was the first world leader to formally address the issue of consumer rights. Today, the United Nations officially recognizes World Consumer Rights Day annually.
But, nearly 60 years after Kennedy’s landmark message to Congress, consumer scams are still commonplace. More likely than not, one of your senior clients or customers has fallen victim. Older adults are significantly more vulnerable to fraud for a variety of reasons, including financial stability, social isolation, lack of technology skills, and in some cases, cognitive decline.
Types of Senior Scams
While there are many types of scams that target our older clients, a number of them are considered “consumer” scams. These include:
- Fake sweepstakes and lotteries
- Internet fraud and tech support scams
- Investment and financial schemes
- IRS and Social Security imposters and scams
- Medicare and healthcare fraud
- Mortgage fraud
- Telemarketing scams
As you work with your senior clients and customers, listen for some of these common red flags that can indicate someone’s trying to take advantage of them:
- Someone under pressure to send money or invest right now, for example, an elderly bank customer who is desperate to withdraw a large sum of cash immediately. Scammers express urgency because they try to prevent their victims from thinking it through.
- Someone who says they’re worried about a phone call claiming to be from Social Security, Medicare, or the IRS. Most government agencies will contact citizens via U.S. Mail, and only use the phone if they’re returning a call.
- Anyone purchasing large sums of gift cards or making wire transfers. Scammers often want payment in gift cards because there’s no way to “follow the money” if they’re caught, and they love the immediacy of a wire transfer that can’t be revoked.
- Seniors too eager to share bank account information, Medicare number, or Social Security number. Your clients should safeguard these numbers and only provide them to established, trusted professionals in person.
- Older adults trying to cash large checks from unfamiliar payers. Con artists will sometimes ask seniors to cash a large check on their behalf, then take the money before the bank realizes the check was a fake.
- Be cautious of customers or clients bragging about an investment or cure that sounds “too good to be true.” It probably is. Investments always carry risks, and there’s no such thing as a “miracle cure,” but scammers rely on false hope to dupe their senior victims.
How to Report Senior Scams
A recent study by Consumers Digest estimates that only one in 25 senior scam cases are reported. However, timely reporting of fraud is one of the best ways to prevent others from falling victim. As a trusted advisor to your senior clients, you can be of great help in identifying and reporting fraud. If you think a client or customer has been the victim of a scam, work with them to collect all of the documentation you can, then help them reach out to the appropriate organization below.
- Securities and Exchange Commission: (800) 732-0330
- Financial Industry Regulatory Authority: (844) 574-3577 (844-57-HELPS)
IRS Imposter Scams or Tax Fraud
- Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration: (800) 366-4484 or www.treasury.gov/tigta
- Senior Medicare Patrol: (877) 808-2468
- Health & Human Services Inspector General: (800) 447-8477 (800-HHS-TIPS) or oig.HHS.gov/fraud
- Medicare: (800) 633-4227 (800-MEDICARE)
- If you use Medicare Advantage, call the Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor: (877) 772-3379
- Housing and Urban Development Inspector General: (800) 347-3735 or HUDoig.gov/hotline.
Phone, Internet, Email, Sweepstakes, Lending or Tech Support Scams
- Federal Trade Commission: (877) 382-4357 or www.ReportFraud.FTC.gov
Social Security Imposter Scams
- Social Security Inspector General (800) 269-0271 or secure.ssa.gov/ipff/home
It’s also advisable for fraud victims to contact their State’s Consumer Protection Office, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Depending on the type of scam, seniors may also want to contact their local law enforcement agency, private health insurer, credit card issuer or bank, and the major credit reporting agencies.
Unfortunately for Judith, her scammers were never captured. However, we can all make the world a safer place for ourselves and our clients by being aware of the many types of senior scams, the red flags to look for, and how to report a suspected scam.
As a trusted partner in our community, Oasis Senior Advisors wants you to be part of our referral network. When seniors and their families turn to us, they often are looking for services like yours as part of our “one call, many solutions” promise. Our service is free to seniors and their families, and we provide personalized one-on-one assistance to our clients. To get to know us better, visit our website at OasisSeniorAdvisors.com or call (888) 455-5838.