She was savvy in many ways, so I was surprised when my grandmother fell victim to a holiday scam.
Granny was returning to her car at Lexington State Bank when a young woman approached to explain that she had received a check from her family member. She claimed the funds would help to buy Christmas gifts for her young children. She said that she didnāt have a bank account and asked if my grandmother would help by depositing the out-of-state check and giving her cash. Granny later learned that the check was fake and part of a scam.
Her story reminds me that scammers will be busy this holiday season, and they especially love grandmas and grandpas. Seniors and adults with disabilities are among the most vulnerable targets.
Now, scammers donāt have to hover at banks. They are becoming more sophisticated and they can use technology to cloak phone numbers to hide their location. This is especially serious for the seniors in our lives. According to AARP, one reason scammers prey on seniors is that they make twice as many purchases over the phone than other groups. The elderly are prime targets to schemes attributed to credit cards, sweepstakes, contests, charities, health products, magazines, home improvements, equity skimming, investments, wire transfers and insurance.
For years many were scammed when someone would call or email a senior posing as a grandchild or family member, then claim they’ve been in an accident, arrested, hospitalized and say they need help. That help is often financial and they request money be sent right away.
Some scams include false special offers and fake charitable organizations. With the holidays approaching itās anticipated that scammers will use these organizations as a cover to take advantage of a person’s good nature. As someone who loves nonprofits, I realize that if someone’s contacting you to get that information and you’ve never spoken to them before, and they’re calling you out of the blue – that’s a red flag that they’re probably after more than just a donation.
The latest reports examined consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission were down from 2.98 million people the year prior. The largest share of complaints overall came from people between the ages of 60 and 69. The median loss for people between the ages of 70 and 79 was $621. Of course, the financial impact from fraud on seniors may go far beyond what is reported to the FTC with an unknown number going unreported.
Several banks offer programs that monitor bank and investment accounts, credit cards, and credit data by offering alerts to an approved family member. Whether youāre an adult child of an aging parent, a caregiver or a professional serving an older client, having a ātrusted advocateā provide an extra set of eyes in guarding against fraud, scams, and financial exploitation.
That wasnāt a hard conversation to have within our family. Our matriarch was proud, strong and willing to ask for help. Shortly before the scam she had joined a senior group. After the incident, she was determined to expose this and other senior scams. Resources are available through the National Adult Protective Services Association, Eldercare.go, The National Center on Elder Abuse, AARP Foundation ElderWatch, Federal Trade Commission and Stopfraud.gov.
The holiday season brings out the fraudsters in force. Scams targeting the elderly ramp up this time of year because con artists know that seniors are both more vulnerable and more charitable with Christmas around the corner. My grandparents are no longer with us but this time of the year, I still encourage my senior family and friends take steps to ensure they arenāt being ripped off. Happy holidays.
Antionette Kerr is an author, book publisher and media correspondent.