Imagine getting a phone call from an unfamiliar number, and the voice on the other end says:
“Hello, this is the Social Security office. We’ve called to let you know that your number has been compromised. We’ve found several accounts opened in your name that have been flagged for money laundering. We will need you to remove all of your money from your accounts and put it on gift cards until we contact you with your new Social Security number.”
Hundreds– perhaps even thousands– of people receive calls like this every day. And while some of us immediately see red flags, many people fall victim to scammers posing as Social Security, banks, Medicare, police, and others. Unfortunately, seniors are frequently the target of these scammers.
According to the National Council on Aging and the FBI, older adults lose more than $3 billion each year to fraudsters. It’s likely that a senior you know has been scammed– and more than likely, they didn’t know where to turn afterward.
Scammers pursue seniors because they believe elderly people are less likely to question authority, often lack technology skills, and can have a significant amount of money in their banking accounts, so it is important that seniors and caregivers know what to do if they are being contacted by an unknown number or email.
While there are many types of scams targeting seniors and others, there has been a recent rise in con artists posing as government officials and asking people to empty their bank accounts onto gift cards. Why gift cards? Because they are difficult to trace and can be exchanged nearly as easily as real money.
But no matter what type of scam is used, there are some basic steps to follow if you discover that you– or someone you know– has been duped.
What to do if a scammer targets you or someone you know:
- First, file a police report with your local precinct. Be prepared to give all of the details you can surrounding the scam: names given, method of contact used (phone, email, etc.), method of payment, where you sent funds and a full description of your interaction with the scammer. If you purchased gift cards, provide receipts from your purchases.
- File a report with government officials. You can file an online report with the FBI, Federal Trade Commission, with the same information you provided to local law enforcement. If the scammer was posing as a government agency, such as Social Security or Medicare, report the fraudulent activity to that agency as well. Use the links below to contact the appropriate offices:
- Report fraud to your bank. It’s always necessary to inform your bank that you have been scammed. If you have fallen victim to a scheme where you withdrew the funds yourself, it’s likely that you will never see that money again. However, most scammers ask for account numbers or personal information associated with your bank account, so it’s a smart move to close out all of your current accounts, cards, and checks and start fresh.
- Place a credit freeze on your accounts to restrict access to your credit report. This will impede a criminal’s efforts to use your personal information to open new credit accounts.
Experian – Online: Experian Freeze Center Phone: 1-888-397-3742
Equifax – Online: Equifax Credit Report Services Phone: 1-800-685-1111
TransUnion – Online: TransUnion Credit Freezes Phone: 1-888-909-8872
Innovis – Online: Innovis Freeze Options Phone: 1-800-540-2505
Sadly, if you or someone you know has been a victim of a con artist, it’s highly unlikely that you will ever get your money back. These criminals are getting smarter and more creative with their methods every day. That’s why it’s important to report any interaction with scammers, successful or unsuccessful, to the proper agencies. Stay up to date with current scams by following the AARP® Fraud Watch Network, which offers free watchdog alerts. Most importantly, if you receive a phone call or email from someone you don’t know asking for money or personal information, hang up or delete the email immediately.
Have you or a senior you know fallen victim to a scam? Oasis Senior Advisors is a trusted resource for seniors, their families and others who serve older adults. If you need help contacting the proper channels involving identity theft or elder fraud, contact your local advisor today at www.oasissenioradvisors.com.