January 1, 2015
Mary’s phone rings and she picks up. The person on the other end calls her “grandma” and proceeds to tell her that they are in trouble and need some money wired to them. Mary doesn’t necessarily recognize the caller’s voice, but phone lines can make voices sound unfamiliar and the young person on the other end is very insistent. “Please,” they say.
Bill sits down to check his e-mail and is surprised to find a message from his bank waiting for him in his inbox. There’s been a breach in security, the message reads, and the bank needs him to click a link in the e-mail, fill in some personal information to verify his identity, and then change his account password in order to make his account secure again. Seems simple enough.
Lucy gets a text from an unknown phone number. She normally only gets texts from her daughter, so the message must be important. Turns out a gentleman in Europe needs her help transferring some money to his family in America. He’s willing to pay her quite a lot of money to help him out and all she needs to do is to get the ball rolling. Wouldn’t helping him out be the nice thing to do?
Scams come in all shapes and sizes. The three above are only the tip of the ice burg. No matter how wonderful an opportunity you’re presented with, how official an e-mail may look, or how desperate a person on the other end of a phone call sounds, you need to protect yourself. Use these tips from the National Council on Aging and the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement to protect yourself or an older adult you know.
1. Be aware that seniors are at risk from strangers — and from those closest to them. It is a sad fact, but over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by the older person’s own family members — most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.
2. Always tell telephone solicitors, “I never buy from (or give to) anyone who calls or visits me unannounced. Send me something in writing.” Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company and always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity. A good rule of thumb is to never donate if it requires you to write your credit card information on any forms.
3. Shred all receipts with your Social Security or credit card numbers. Identity theft is a huge business. To protect yourself, invest in — and use — a paper shredder.
4. Monitor your bank and credit card statements and credit reports and immediately report any unusual activity.
5. Never give out personal information (Social Security numbers, bank info, credit card numbers, etc.) over the phone to someone who initiates the contact with you. Even if the caller says they’re from your bank, do not give information to anyone who calls you. If your bank needs information, they will be OK with you calling them back at the bank’s telephone number before you answer their personal questions. The same goes for e-mail communication; do not give out personal information by replying to an e-mail or at a website that is opened through a link in an e-mail.
6. Misuse of Medicare dollars is one of the largest scams involving seniors. Common schemes include billing for services never delivered and selling unneeded devices or services to beneficiaries. Protect your Medicare number as you do your credit card, banking, and Social Security numbers and do not allow anyone else to use it. Be wary of salespeople trying to sell you something they claim will be paid for by Medicare.
7. Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers and thoroughly do your research. Be an informed consumer. Take the time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Take a friend with you who may offer some perspective to help you make difficult decisions. Also, carefully read all contracts and purchasing agreements before signing, and make certain that all of your requirements have been put in writing. And understand all contract cancellation and refund terms.
If you think you’ve been scammed, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it. Waiting can only make it worse. Immediately call your bank and/or credit card company, cancel any debit /credit cards linked to the stolen account, and/or reset your personal identification number(s).