Keep Your Aging Parents Safe From Phone Scams
If you are unaware, 143 million people were recently exposed in a recent hack of Equifax. It seems like there is a new hack of some company almost every month. It can be overwhelming and frustrating to know that your personal information is floating around somewhere. Unfortunately, at some point, just about everyone will likely be a victim of hacking.
In fact, I just discovered that someone somehow got ahold of my information. A few months ago, I cut up a debit Visa card to an account that I no longer use. I kept the account open because I use it as a back-up savings account. This weekend, I got an alert from the bank that there was unusual activity. It seems someone tried to set up a Bitcoin account with my card and tried to make several online purchases. The card hasn’t existed for a few months so I’m not sure how someone got ahold of it, but someone did and was trying to steal money from my account. Thankfully, the bank caught on and declined the charges.
While hacking can happen to anyone, regardless of age, phone fraud is one type of scam that tends to happen to the aging population more than others – although anyone can be at risk. If your aging parent lives alone, be sure to discuss these common phone scams with them to ensure they don’t fall prey to them.
Typical Phone Scams That Target Seniors
Here are some typical phone scams that specifically target seniors. That being said, fraudsters are constantly changing tactics so your aging parent should be wary of anyone who calls and asks for personal information or requests money. Phone scams are harder to track so they tend to be very popular with criminals.
- Fake Grandchild: In this situation, the caller disguises their voice and tries to trick a person into thinking they are their grandchild. The caller may even say “Grandma/Grandpa?” so that the receiver guesses the name of a loved one and they just jump right into their scam. They will say that they were traveling and something bad happened and they desperately need money to get out of a situation. They request the money be wired to them. Sadly, the scam works more often than not.
- IRS: In this phone scam, someone calls and says they are with the IRS and you owe X amount of money. If you don’t pay the money immediately, there will be serious consequences. This scam happens a lot after tax time, but can happen anytime. I have actually received this call. What you and your aging parent should know is that the IRS will never reach out to collect money over the phone.
- Phone Phishing: You’ve probably received phishing emails from a sender that claims to be your bank or credit card company saying that your account has been compromised and you should click on the link to protect your account. Well, this can also be done as a phone scam. A person will claim they are with your credit card (most everyone has a credit card and they don’t have to provide a bank) and your account has been compromised so you need to provide specific personal information (birthday, social security number, etc.) to fix it. They can then use that information to apply for cards as you.
- Charitable Scams: A caller will pretend to be with a charitable organization and request a financial donation for X charity. Your aging parent will hand over their credit card number, which of course, will be used for their own personal spending spree.
- You Won: A caller will call and tell your aging parent they won a prize and the only thing they need to do to retrieve it is send a check to them or provide a credit card so the postage can be covered.
Of course, there are many more ways that unscrupulous people will take advantage of the elderly, but these phone scams are the most common. In general, your aging parent should not provide personal information or a credit card number to anyone who calls (or emails).
If they are concerned that the call was factual, they can always hang up and call the person/company back. For example, if they get the grandma scam call, they can call their grandchild directly or their adult child to verify that they are ok. The same goes for a credit card call. They can call the number on the back of their credit card to make sure that there isn’t an issue with their account.
If you aren’t sure that a call is real or a scam, here are some warning signs from the FBI.
- “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
- “You’ve won a ‘free’ gift, vacation, or prize.” But you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
- “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
- “You don’t need to check out the company with anyone.” The callers say you do not need to speak to anyone including your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.
- “You don’t need any written information about the company or their references.”
- “You can’t afford to miss this ‘high-profit, no-risk’ offer.”
FBI Tips On Avoiding Phone Scams
Following are tips from the FBI’s website on how to avoid phone scams. Share these with your friends and family, particularly those who may fall prey to a scam.
It is very difficult to get your money back if you have been cheated over the telephone. Before you buy anything by telephone, remember:
- Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company. Legitimate businesses understand that you want more information about their company and are happy to comply.
- Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review them. But beware—not everything written down is true.
- Always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, state attorney general, the National Fraud Information Center, or other watchdog groups. However, not all bad businesses can be identified through these organizations.
- Obtain a salesperson’s name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address, and business license number before you transact business. Some con artists give out false names, telephone numbers, addresses, and business license numbers—verify the accuracy of these items.
- Before you give money to a charity or make an investment, find out what percentage of the money is paid in commissions and what percentage actually goes to the charity or investment.
- Before you send money, ask yourself a simple question: “What guarantee do I really have that this solicitor will use my money in the manner we agreed upon?”
- Don’t pay in advance for services; pay only after they are delivered.
- Be wary of companies that want to send a messenger to your home to pick up money, claiming it is part of their service to you. In reality, they are taking your money without leaving any trace of who they are or where they can be reached.
- Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won’t pressure you to make a snap decision.
- Don’t pay for a “free prize.” If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
- Before you receive your next sales pitch, decide what your limits are—the kinds of financial information you will and won’t give out on the telephone.
- Be sure to talk over big investments offered by telephone salespeople with a trusted friend, family member, or financial advisor. It is never rude to wait and think about an offer.
- Never respond to an offer you don’t understand thoroughly.
- Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
- Be aware that your personal information is often brokered to telemarketers through third parties.
- If you have been victimized once, be wary of persons who call offering to help you recover your losses for a fee paid in advance.
- If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies.