Financial Fraud Prevention Tips for Seniors
When it comes to financial fraud, con artists view seniors as an easier target than young people. This perception is based on a variety of factors, from emotional states such as loneliness and generosity, to cognitive decline, and the likelihood that seniors have more assets in their “golden years” (such as a home or retirement savings) than young people. At Muncy Bank, we are passionate about protecting our senior customers from financial fraud, identity theft and other scams. That’s why we created this guide to the most common scams targeting the elderly. We encourage you to read it with your family members and caregivers, so everyone knows what to look for to fight and prevent fraud. We’ve also listed some ways to report scams if you are victimized by one or experience an attempted fraud.
If you have questions or need help and don’t know where to turn, our friendly employees are here to help. Call us at 570.546.2211 or 1.877.243.8919, or visit your nearest branch. You can also get help from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. The number for their Senior Protection hotline is 1-866-623-2137.
Funeral pre-payment scams
Death is a tricky topic for families to discuss. You may want to plan everything, but your kids can’t bear the thought of losing you. That’s why a prepaid funeral can seem like a smart and practical way to take care of things in advance, saving your loved ones from the financial and emotional burden of funeral planning. Unfortunately, scammers exploit this impulse by selling fake prepaid funeral plans to seniors.
If you receive solicitations for this service, or seek it out on your own, do your due diligence by checking the company’s status with the Better Business Bureau. Once you’ve found a legitimate company, ask questions until you’re certain you know what you’re paying for, what will happen to your payment while you’re still alive, and how you’re protected in case the company closes or you end up dying in another state. Perhaps most importantly, your family needs to know about your prepaid funeral plans and where to find the related documents. If you don’t tell anyone, your family could end up paying twice for your funeral.
Reverse Mortgage scams
As with prepaid funerals, a reverse mortgage can be a legitimate financial service. However, it is also a complicated one, which con artists use to sell fraudulent reverse mortgages to financially vulnerable seniors. Victims of reverse mortgage scams end up with all the debt and none of the proceeds. They may even lose their homes to foreclosure. To avoid these scams, don’t sign up for a reverse mortgage with someone who comes to you. Instead, seek out a reputable lender if and when you decide that a reverse mortgage is in your best financial interest.
The Grandparent Scam
If you have grandchildren, it’s natural to want to help and support them. Some scammers take advantage of this deep love by calling seniors and impersonating a grandchild. Thanks to social media, they may know a surprising amount of information about the names and lives of your grandchildren. In this scam, the caller pretends to be a grandchild in trouble and asks you to send money right away.
Also known as “family and friend imposter scams,” thieves might impersonate other relatives, such as your children or nieces and nephews. Increasingly, scammers are requesting cash through the mail instead of gift cards or wire transfers. According to the FTC, the median cash amount people age 70 and up lost to these “family scams” in 2018 was $9,000. Scammers tend to have specific directions for sending cash, such as putting bills into multiple envelopes and hiding them in a magazine.
As with other phone scams, the best way to handle a potential grandparent scam is to stay calm. Don’t respond to emotional pressure or threats. If the caller asks you to keep their secret, take that as a red flag, not a sign of the special bond you have with that person. Get off the phone quickly and call the alleged family member back on a cell phone or landline you know. You could also confer with other people in the family to verify or disprove the story.
If you discover the lie after you’ve sent cash, contact the shipping agency you used—they may be able to stop the package in transit and get it back to you. Also, report grandparent scam calls to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.
Social Security Scams
In a December 2018 blog post, the Acting Inspector General of Social Security warns Americans about an increase in Social Security Administration (SSA) telephone impersonation schemes. While people of all ages could be targeted, senior citizens may be the most desirable target group because they are close to, or currently receive, social security payments. Thus, SSA scammers appear credible by “spoofing” the national customer service number.
If you receive one of these calls, don’t provide your personal information under threat of arrest or other penalties. Scammers typically say your social security number has been used illegally, and you will face legal trouble if you don’t provide the information they request to “resolve” the issue. You should hang up immediately and call the SSA yourself to find out if there truly is a problem. While SSA employees do call citizens occasionally for customer-service purposes, they will never ask for information or threaten you. Report suspicious calls to the OIG at 1-800-269-0271 or online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
IRS Impersonation Scams
These are similar to SSA scam calls and can occur any time of the year, not just during tax filing season. The scammer appears to be calling from a legitimate IRS phone number, with a fake name and badge number. Instead of trying to steal your personal information, as with SSA scams, IRS impersonators usually say you owe money on your taxes and must pay it right away, over the phone or through wire transfer, to avoid penalty.
Keep in mind that the IRS will mail a statement if you owe taxes. They don’t call and ask for instant payment. As for the so-called penalties, the IRS doesn’t have the right to revoke your driver’s license or have you arrested. Finally, all tax payments should be made to the US Treasury, not any other person or institution.
If you believe you’ve received an IRS scam call, you can report it by calling 1-800-366-4484, or by visiting the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page.
Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
Who wouldn’t love to win a new car, cash prize, or free trip to a tropical destination, especially during the winter? The natural appeal of sweepstakes and lotteries make this scam continuously successful among people of all ages, but especially seniors. Sweepstakes scammers contact victims over the phone or by mail to notify them of their “prize.” The catch is that you have to pay a fee in order to collect your winnings.
Tech Support Scams
The rapid pace of innovation in technology makes it hard for many people to keep up. Thus, computer scammers try to sell useless tech support plans to unsuspecting seniors. They may also call you, claiming to work for a major tech company like Microsoft, and say there’s a problem with your computer or virus protection software. Once you give the caller remote access to your computer to “fix” the problem, they will go in and create actual issues, then sell you a fake protection plan to take care of it. As with other types of phone scams, be suspicious of someone who asks for your checking account number or insists you can only pay by wire transfer.
Home Improvement Scams
Just as scammers exploit seniors’ lack of technological know-how, ill-intentioned home improvement contractors often go door-to-door when the season changes (or after a big storm) to sell small home repair projects. Once you agree, the contractor asks for payment in advance, then does a substandard job or fails to do the promised work entirely.
Natural Disaster Scams
From hurricanes to wildfires, natural disasters are increasing across the country. In response, scammers seize on the goodwill of the American people to solicit donations to fake charities. If you receive a phone call or other type of message asking you to help victims of a recent disaster, take time to verify the caller and supposed charity before you give any money. Certainly, you don’t want to supply a bank account number or other sensitive information.
Another common senior fraud consists of obtaining people’s Medicare card numbers and filing false claims for healthcare you never received. To protect yourself from Medicare scams, keep your health card in a safe place, as if it were a credit card. Never give out your unique number. Review your claims statements to make sure you haven’t been billed for services you never received.
We all know there are criminals out there trying to steal money and personal information from unsuspecting people. Sadly, financial fraud can also occur much closer to home. Financial exploitation of seniors consists of illegal or unauthorized use of funds, property, or assets. This type of fraud is usually carried out by relatives or others who are close to the victim, such as a power of attorney or home health aide. Financial exploitation could consist of unauthorized ATM transactions, taking the older person to their bank to withdraw money or open a safe deposit box, signing over assets, and more. The recent opioid crisis has only worsened financial exploitation of seniors.
Muncy Bank: Defining Community Banking Since 1893
As a longtime financial institution in Lycoming, Clinton and Northumberland County, we do more than provide convenient banking services. At Muncy Bank, we care about community. This means looking out for the most vulnerable members of our community. If you need help managing your finances or planning for the future, talk to us about our My Option 55+ Checking account and Wealth Management services. Muncy Bank is your trusted financial supporter, right in your own backyard.