Category Archives: Senior Scams

Online Safety Tips for Seniors

Are your aging parents safe online? Or are they setting themselves up as fresh bait for online scammers looking to steal their identity, destroy their credit, and drain their bank accounts?

Older adults have been a target for con artists and scammers as long as their have been older people and thieves. In fact, most scams that target the elderly are just new versions of time-proven scams that have been updated with a new twist — or new technology. And as more seniors go online, they are finding that it’s far too easy to skip or trip into an online minefield of trouble.

In a recent Huffington Post entry, Jason Alderman, Visa’s Senior Director of Financial Education, lists several key online safety tips for seniors worth sharing with the aging loved one in your life…

Update security software. Make sure their computers have anti-virus and anti-spyware software and show them how to update it regularly.

Think like the bad guys. Even the best software isn’t 100 percent foolproof, so teach them how to anticipate and ward off annoying — or criminal — behavior. For example:

  • Only open or download information from trusted sites to which you navigated yourself. Don’t assume a link contained in an email, even from a friend, will necessarily take you to a company’s legitimate website.
  • Don’t click on popup windows or banners that appear when you’re browsing a site.
  • Some common email scams that target seniors include offers for discounted drugs and low-cost insurance, and supposed warnings from the IRS — which, incidentally, never contacts taxpayers by email.
  • Financial institutions never email customers asking for verification of account or password information.
  • When shopping online, look for safety symbols, such as a padlock icon in the browser’s status bar, an “s” after “http” in the URL address, or the words “Secure Sockets Layer” (SSL) or “Transport Layer Security” (TLS). These are signs that the merchant is using a secure page for transmitting personal information.

These are all common tricks used to infect your computer with viruses or to install spyware that records your keystrokes to obtain account or other confidential information.

Read the full article

Alderman also points out that poor passwords continue to be a real threat to personal online security — especially if your aging parent or loved one uses passwords that a determined scammer can find on an “open to everyone” facebook profile.

Use strong passwords. Believe it or not, the most frequently used password is “password.” Other common, easy-to-crack passwords include simple numeric sequences and names of pets, spouses and children. For more secure passwords:

  • Use at least seven characters with a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Use unique passwords for each account in case one gets compromised.
  • Change passwords frequently.
  • If you’re prone to forgetting, safely store a master list of passwords.

Protect personal information. Never post sensitive information on any website (or share via email, mail or phone) unless you initiated the contact. This might include numbers for credit cards, bank accounts, Social Security, Medicare and driver’s license, address/phone and full birthdate.

Criminals can easily piece together such information to steal your identity and open accounts in your name. Example: Your Facebook profile shows pictures of your dog, Rex. One of your bank’s security questions is, “What is your pet’s name?” Need I say more?

Set privacy controls. On social networking sites, carefully review privacy settings that let you limit who has access to your personal information.

Read the full article

If your aging parents or grandparents have recently joined the ranks of seniors online, they aren’t alone. More and more older adults are going online everyday. Many are initially motivated by a desire to keep up with their Facebook-savvy grandchildren. Some find their way online for the first time through Apple’s iPad, a touch-screen tablet computer that’s incredibly easy to use for newbies of all ages. And others just got fed up with feeling left out of the digital world.

The opportunity that the internet offers seniors is unlimited. But so are the risks. And in the hands of an inexperienced or unsuspecting senior, a computer keyboard or touchscreen can be as dangerous as letting a child chase a ball into the street.

Want to keep your aging parents or loved ones safe online? For more online safety tips for seniors, check out “Cyber Safe Seniors,” a free 60-page PDF download from Norton.

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Elderly Driver Safety Tip: How to Avoid Staged Accident Scams

Elderly drivers are favorite targets for staged accident scams, when professional thieves cause accidents on purpose to profit from insurance claims against unsuspecting motorists.

Elderly drivers are choice victims for these criminals, especially if they are driving alone in an upscale area in nice car that looks well-insured. The fact that some elderly drivers may be less attentive when driving, and more easily confused or intimidated after an accident makes them even more vulnerable.

According to a 2010 report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the top five states for staged accident questionable claims were Florida, New York, California, Texas, and Illinois.

“Staged auto accidents are a dangerous criminal activity that targets innocent drivers with increasingly bold schemes aimed at defrauding insurance companies,” says Loretta Worters, vice president with the Insurance Information Institute in New York City. “Not only do honest policyholders ultimately end up paying more for auto insurance, but those committing the fraud can cause serious injuries or death.”

At the least, getting into a forced accident costs a victim the inconvenience of having to take a vehicle in for repairs and having to deal with doctors, lawyers and insurance companies. A victim’s premiums could skyrocket because of the claim, or the insurance company might choose not to renew the policy.

Read the full article

The NICB notes that there are four common types of staged accident scams:

1. Swoop and Squat: Usually involves three vehicles; two are driven by criminals, the other is the victim. The driver of the “squat” vehicle positions his vehicle in front of the victim’s car. The driver of the “swoop vehicle” pulls ahead of the squat vehicle and internationally cuts it off, thus causing the squat vehicle driver to hit his breaks. The victim cannot react in time and rear ends the squat vehicle. The swoop vehicle races off and is not seen again. The innocent motorist states the swoop vehicle caused the accident, but because that driver cannot be located, the victim has to pay the vehicle damage and personal injury claims of passengers in the squat vehicle.

2. Side Swipe: Typically occurs at busy intersections with dual left turn lanes. The criminal positions his vehicle in the outer lane. As soon as the victim’s vehicle drifts into the outer turn lane, the criminal side-swipes it.

3. Panic stop: Here the criminal typically drives an older vehicle filled with passengers. The criminal positions his car in front of the victim’s while a backseat passenger in the criminal’s vehicle watches and waits for the innocent motorist to be distracted, for example, by a cell phone call. As soon as the victim is distracted, the driver slams on the brakes, causing the innocent motorist to rear-end the criminal’s vehicle. The victim’s insurance company must pay for vehicle damage as well as injuries that the passengers may claim to have suffered from the accident.

4. Drive down: In this scheme, the victim merges his vehicle into traffic after being motioned to do so by the criminal. As the innocent driver begins to merge, the criminal speeds up and causes a collision. When questioned, the criminal denies motioning the victim to merge into traffic or gives excuses.

Read the full article

Elderly drivers who want to avoid staged accident scams should keep these driver safety tips in mind:

• Maintain plenty of distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you in case the driver in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes.

• Stay focused. Turn off the radio and your cell phone. The more you can eliminate driving distractions, the easier it is to stay aware of the vehicles around you. Accident scammers trolling for victims are always on the lookout for other drivers talking on cell phones. It’s just easier to make their case that you weren’t paying attention to the road.

• Check your rear-view and side mirrors frequently. Elderly drivers often drive with tunnel-vision, narrow-focusing on the road ahead. This tendency is well-known and easy to spot by professional accident scammers.

If you are in an accident:

• Call 911 immediately. Even if there are no injuries or little damage, you want police assistance on scene as quickly as possible. If you are dealing with thieves, they may not be interested in filing a bogus accident claim. The staged accident may just be a pretense to get you out of your car to steal your wallet or your vehicle.

• Keep a disposable camera, pen and notebook in your glove compartment. If you are in an accident, you want to gather as much information as possible. If you think you are the victim of a staged accident, the first thing you should do is COUNT AND TAKE PHOTOS OF THE PASSENGERS. Get their names and telephone numbers. Scammers have been known to recruit people on the street to jump in to a vehicle before the police arrive to pad a claim with “victims” who were not in the car.

• Take pictures of the damage on both cars. To obtain a bigger claim, scammers have been known to turn small dents into major damage between the accident scene and the body shop.

• Notice how the other passengers behave. Do they seem hurt? Or do they wait for the police or ambulance to arrive before they act injured?

• Beware “strangers” on the street who try to direct you to a doctor, chiropractor, lawyer, or body shop. Or tow trucks that magically appear. Valets, parking attendants, or other bystanders who witnessed the “accident” may be part of the scam team. The last thing you want is to be further victimized by a crooked repair shop that only wants to pad your bill or a bogus health care provider that is more interested in billing your insurance than giving you proper care.

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Safe Aging at Home Tip: Elderly Should Beware Strangers in Uniform

Are you or your aging parents letting thieves who scam seniors in through the front door?

The elderly are ideal targets for scammers because they tend to be more trusting — especially if someone shows up at their front door wearing a uniform. Older adults who live alone, or who have begun to show signs of impaired judgement or memory are even more likely to be manipulated or intimidated.

Three recent news stories illustrate just how often seniors are opening their front doors to thieves posing as construction and utility workers, police officers, and even home health aids.

In Spartanberg County, SC, the sheriff is looking for a group of thieves who have been posing as construction workers to distract and burglarize unsuspecting seniors….

In the most recent incident… the men asked an 87-year-old Inman woman about construction “stobs,” or stakes in the ground. The woman went outside and spoke to several men, who said there was a new phone line going in around the area, an incident report said.

The woman told the men she would have to talk to her daughter and when she returned to her house, she found that the door had damaged around the knob. She asked the men to stay outside but the men pushed by her and went inside, the report said.

The men asked her where her money and prescription medication were, and they roamed her home for about 10 minutes, the report said. They later took her cell phone and ripped her phone line out of the wall before leaving. After the men left, the woman went to a neighbor’s home to call police.

Read the full story here

In Michigan, Grand Rapids police reported that a woman has been approaching seniors claiming to be a police officer to gain access to their homes…

…a 72-year-old resident walking in his neighborhood near Lake Michigan Drive NW and Collingdale avenue was approached by a woman identifying herself as a police officer and then talked her way into his house after showing a badge.

While in the house, the woman asked the intended victim about his finances and whether there was money in the home. The woman claimed she was investigating a “counterfeit ring” and said the resident matched the description. The woman got into an old white station wagon driven by someone else and took off, according to police.

Read the full story here

And in Delaware County, Penn., an elderly couple was victimized by a young woman wearing hospital scrubs who claimed she worked for the Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging…

The woman told the elderly man that she was there to check on his wife, who is confined to a bed because of medical issues, police said. The man let the woman inside and she spoke to his wife about her medical issues. After a few minutes, she left the home.

A short time later, the woman returned telling the man that her car had broken down and asked to use the phone. The man allowed her inside again, but this time the woman ran into the wife’s bedroom, went immediately to a bedside table and took a number of items, including cash and a check book. She ran back out the front door before the man could stop her. The suspect’s car was heard driving away toward Washington Street, police said.

Read the full story here

How can you tell if the person ringing your bell really works for the utility company or the police? The following safe aging at home tips can help protect yourself or your aging parents the next time a wolf in sheep’s clothing comes a knockin’ at the front door:

• Don’t open the door! You are not being rude. This is a matter of security, not manners. Whatever needs to be said can be said with you safely inside. Never allow someone you don’t know or trust to literally “get a foot” in your door.

• Beware bogus utility worker scam teams working in pairs. One thief distracts their elderly victim by convincing them to go outside to the backyard or into the basement. Meanwhile, the other thief sneaks in the front door, or pretends to go the bathroom, or to check the gas appliances for leaks. While you are busy outside, the second scammer is stealing any valuables he or she can find.

• Look for a marked utility vehicle with your local utility company’s logo in front of your house or in your driveway.  No sign of a properly marked utility vehicle is a red flag. So are unmarked utility trucks or personal vehicles with “peel off” magnetic signs.

• Don’t be fooled by what appears to be a uniform or an identification badge. Generic uniforms can be made to look official with the right patches. Besides, would you know how to tell a genuine utility worker ID or a police badge from a fake?

• Confirm any letters, door hangers, or phone calls from a utility company that say workers will be in your neighborhood or will need access to your home. Important: Look up the number in a phone book or online AND CALL THE UTILITY COMPANY YOURSELF.

Increasingly, sophisticated scammers who want to put skeptical victims at ease are giving advanced notice that someone will knock at your door — just like real utility companies. The notice may be on utility company letterhead, but the “confirmation number” may be answered by one of the scammers or a bogus recorded message. For the same reason…

• Verify any unexpected visits from utility workers or the police by calling the utility company or the police station yourself. Do not let the person on the other side of your front door give you a number to speak with their “supervisor.” Do not let them have someone call you from the utility company or the station, or dial a number for you on their cell phone. And never, ever let anyone in your home to use your phone.

• If the stranger in uniform at your door says it’s an emergency or you have even the slightest doubt that something isn’t right, call 911. The police take calls about people impersonating cops very seriously. If the gas or electric utility workers are for real, they will have no problems waiting for the police to verify their identity. And the police take calls about people impersonating cops very seriously.

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How to Protect Aging Parents from Investment Fraud

If your aging parents haven’t been victims of investment fraud or financial elder abuse, the odds are good that it may just be a matter of time.

According to a 2010 Elder Investor Fraud Survey conducted by The Investor Protection Trust, one out of every five adults over the age of 65 have been victimized by financial scams. And one out of every three older adults are getting calls from telemarketers asking them to send money or hawking lotteries and similar scams.

The elderly are favorite targets for financial fraudsters for a few key reasons:

• First and foremost, “that’s where the money is.” Older Americans who have spent a lifetime working, saving, and investing tend to have more financial assets compared to the general population.

• Stealing from the elderly is relatively easy compared to other types of fraud — especially for predatory caregivers or family members. Many times all it takes is an account number, a password, or a legal document that can be used to commit financial elder abuse. The fact that so many cases of financial elder abuse go undetected and unreported for years has prompted some experts to dub financial elder abuse the “Crime of the 21st Century.”

• Many victims of financial elder abuse are isolated, trusting, and vulnerable — traits that are all too easy to exploit for fraudsters looking for easy marks. Older adults who suffer from dementia or even mild cognitive impairments that affect their memory or judgement are at even greater risk for financial exploitation.

Another reason your aging parents may be at financial risk…

A recent survey of 600 Baby Boomers conducted by a national in-home care company, shows that many are alarmingly unprepared to help their aging parents with their finances — even at the most basis level: 34 percent had no idea if their parents have a safe deposit box or where the key is; and 36 percent have no idea where to find their aging parents’ financial information to begin with.

Important: The number of elderly victims of investment fraud is rising and is expected to keep rising as the Baby Boomers themselves get older. And we’re not just talking about falling for emails pitching winning Nigerian lottery tickets and free cruise vacations.

Even sophisticated investors can get taken. Just ask Bernie Madoff’s victims how safe they felt with their “no brainer” investment right up until their security blanket was pulled out from under them.

Protect your aging parents from becoming a victims of investment fraud. Check out these free online resources to help you get started…

Consumer Guide to Financial Self-Defense from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Red flags that your financial advisor may be committing fraud and what to do to protect yourself.

Fighting Fraud 101: Smart Tips for Older Investors from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Worth the quick read just for the “Psychology of a Scam” section, which identified common tactics used by fraudsters.

North American Securities Administrators Association Senior Investor Resource Center. A superb resource. Topics include: A checklist of key questions to ask before investing; Ten tips to protect your nestegg; and Top Investor Traps.

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Senior Scam Alert: Precious Metals Firm Bilks Elderly for More Than $37 Million

When it comes to senior scams, all that glitters is not gold. Especially for seniors who believed the telemarketing pitch from American Precious Metals, LLC, in Deerfield Beach, Fla. According to the Federal Trade Commission, owners Harry R. Tanner and his wife, Andrea Tanner…

…ran a telemarketing scheme that conned senior citizens into buying precious metals on credit without disclosing the costs and risks involved — including the fact that victims were usually forced to pony up more money or risk losing their entire investment.

The FTC said the Tanners and their company, American Precious Metals LLC, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., fleeced elderly victims out of more than $37 million dollars. Pending trial, a federal judge has shut down the Tanner’s company, placed it in receivership, and frozen the defendant’s assets.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the Tanners targeted elderly consumers with a get-rich-quick scheme that promised huge profits by investing in precious metals such as silver, gold, platinum and palladium. American Precious Metals’ telemarketers used strong-arm sales tactics to convince consumers they were being offered low-risk investments that stood to quickly double or triple in value.

…But despite the hard-sell tactics and other lies the Tanners fed their customers, they never used their victims’ money to buy any precious metals at all. Instead, after pocketing fees and commissions that were never clearly disclosed to consumers, they deposited the rest of the money in a clearinghouse account that recorded the investments without buying the precious metals.

The FTC also accused the defendants of regularly failing to inform their customers that their investments were leveraged and, as such, were agreeing to take out a loan and pay interest on up to 80 percent of the purchase price of the precious metal investments — which, of course, were never made.

Read the full article here.

Since the FTC took action against American Precious Metals, LLC, in May, the court-appointed receiver has liquidated the assets of the bogus business, and begun distributing the funds to the Tanner’s victims.

But it’s not likely that anyone will get back everything they lost. And the even greater tragedy is that senior scam victims often don’t have the luxury of time to make back their losses.

Older Americans were hit really hard by the real estate collapse and financial crisis of the last several years. After a lifetime of saving, retirement accounts were devastated. Home equity lifelines disappeared. And foreclosure rates skyrocketed. Add fears of another Great Depression, inflation, and a universal distrust of financial institutions, and it’s no wonder that so many seniors have turned to hard assets like precious metals for peace of mind.

Thinking about investing in physical silver or gold? Do you homework first — and keep these tips from the FTC in mind:

• If you are buying bullion coins or collectible coins, ask for the coin’s melt value – the basic intrinsic bullion value of a coin if it were melted and sold. The melt value for virtually all bullion coins and collectible coins is widely available.

• Consult with a reputable dealer or financial advisor you trust who has specialized knowledge.

• Get an independent appraisal of the specific gold product you’re considering. The seller’s appraisal might be inflated.

•Consider additional costs. You may need to buy insurance, a safe deposit box, or rent offsite storage to safeguard bullion. These costs will cut into the investment potential of bullion.

• Some sellers deliver bullion or bars to a secured facility rather than to a consumer. When you buy metals without taking delivery, take extra precautions to ensure that the metal exists, is of the quality described, and is properly insured.

• Walk away from sales pitches that minimize risk or sales representatives who claim that risk disclosures are mere formalities. Reputable sales reps are upfront about the risk of particular investments. Always get a receipt for your transaction.

• Refuse to “act now.” Any sales pitch that urges you to buy immediately is a signal to walk away and hold on to your money.

• Check out the seller by entering the company’s name in a search engine online. Read about other people’s experiences with the company. Try to communicate offline if possible to clarify any details. In addition, contact your state Attorney General (www.naag.org) and local consumer protection agency (www.consumeraction.gov). This kind of research is prudent, although it isn’t fool-proof: it may be too soon for someone to realize they’ve been defrauded or to have lodged a complaint with the authorities.

For more useful information from the FTC about investing in precious metals, click here.

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