The numbers are staggering. $40 billion dollars! That is the estimated amount scammed illegally from some 25 million senior citizens across the country in just one year according to the Federal Trade Commission.
St. Johns County has nearly 30 thousand seniors and it is our job help protect them and their assets from a growing trend to target older citizens as easy marks for a variety of illegal schemes. The best way to do that is through education and this column is an important part of that effort.
There are good reasons why seniors are good scam targets. They are more likely to have substantial savings, own their homes and have excellent credit ratings. They were raised to be polite and trusting and con artists take advantage of these good traits. Seniors are more likely to be home during the day and less likely to say no or hang up the phone.
In my 30 years in law enforcement there has been an explosion in technology resulting in wonderful new tools to help solve crimes and protect citizens from harm. Unfortunately these same advancements have opened new ways to identify specific age groups such as 65 and older as targets and to steal their hard earned money.
Here are some of the most common “senior scams”.
Investment and work at home schemes: In an effort to supplement their fixed incomes seniors respond to these direct mail and e-mail ads. The investment invitations promise huge returns and usually require victim to sign up quickly. In working from home scams, whether it is stuffing envelopes, data entry or serving as a “mystery shopper” the offers that are not legitimate ask the applicant to send money up front to cover start up costs.
Medicare scams: Seniors are called or e-mailed by someone who claims to be with Medicare saying some errors have occurred and they need updated information such as social security, bank account or credit card numbers. Medicare will never request personal financial information by phone or e-mail.
Lottery and sweepstakes scams: Typically a letter is sent to the victim announcing they are a big winner of a lottery or sweepstakes. There is either a request to wire money to pay the taxes and process the winning prize or the letter will even include a bogus check with instructions to deposit the check and then wire a portion of the prize back to cover taxes etc. When the check bounces the victim is out of that “tax money” or processing amount with little or no recourse because it was wired to an overseas account.
Unprofessional professionals: This con game is more prevalent this time of year. A knock on the door and unsuspecting seniors invite an unscrupulous roof repairer, termite exterminator, gas leak technician, air duct cleaner, or other shoddy home repair specialist into their homes. They often claim to have been working in the neighborhood and noticed or suspected similar problems with the victim’s house.
Bereavement scams: These are the cruelest of all con games: The scammers take advantage of seniors who have recently lost loved ones, most likely a spouse, daughter or son by scouring the obituaries. They call the widow or widower or grieving parent claiming that their dear departed has outstanding debts that need to be paid immediately by check or credit card.
Grandchild in trouble scam: The con artist impersonates a grandchild to a senior who may have some hearing deficit or claims to be some sort of law enforcement or public official giving details of the young person’s financial or legal trouble that needs to be dealt with immediately. Wire the money now is the request to avoid sending the grandchild to jail or bailing them out of one.
Here is the best advice we at the St. Johns Sheriff’s office can offer.
Get all the information you can about any unsolicited request or offer of services then check out those facts and claims through legitimate sources such as the Better Business Bureau. Be suspicious of high pressure sales tactics or the need to make quick decisions regarding any financial transaction. Ask a trusted friend or relative for help.
My office has deputies who are specialists in crime prevention who will gladly provide you information. Check out our website at www.sjso.org and click on the “crime prevention” link. There is a section devoted to crimes against the elderly.
In addition, you can register an Internet complaint as well as obtain valuable information from the Federal Government at www.ic3.gov.
I hope this information assists you and please pass it onto friends and relatives in an effort to fight scams, of course please feel free to contact me anytime.
David B. Shoar
St. Johns County Sheriff
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer