Two tales underscore the extent of fraud
January 1, 2020
It seems that whatever you do these days, you need to constantly be wary of scams and fraud—whether writing a check, shopping online, checking emails and social media, even answering your cell phone. If this is unnerving for you, imagine the confusion that a senior friend or relative may be experiencing.
Scammers prey on vulnerable adults: they are targeted not only because they may have assets, but they may be lonely and welcome the phone calls and attention. There may also be cognitive problems which can cause confusion – something the scammers count on and use to their advantage.
Recently I was made aware of two scams affecting seniors in our community.
The first one morphed into several scams that left the family scrambling to cancel their mother’s bank accounts, credit cards and cell phone number, buy a new computer, freeze her credit at the three reporting agencies and sign her up for a credit monitoring service.
This 94-year old, “Annie,” was initially contacted on her cell phone. The con man told her he was from her bank (Impostor Scam), which was her correct bank; the scammer did have that info, probably from a recent data breach. Annie was told she had a Social Security refund that couldn’t be deposited. This scam for bank account information (ID Theft) then transformed into a Tech Support Scam when the scammer convinced her to give him access to her computer. Once inside, he retrieved her bank account information by clicking on “forgot password” and having the new one sent to her email which he also controlled. The scammer then changed her banking online passwords as well as the password to log onto her computer.
Over multiple phone calls, the scammer convinced Annie to withdraw $9,000 from her bank account. He had even transferred that money from her savings to her checking account online. She took a taxi to the bank where she was instructed to withdraw the money and then buy prepaid cards at the store and read him the numbers on the back (Prepaid Card Scam).
Annie’s family doesn’t know how the scam evolved to her withdrawing money. Luckily, the banker she spoke to explained that this was a scam and stopped the fraud. Incidentally, the scammer called the victim’s cell phone while she was at the bank. She handed her phone to the banker and let him handle the call.
This situation could have turned out so much worse than the inconvenience and time consuming efforts to change and protect Annie’s financial information. She could have lost much of her savings.
In the second scam, which is very prevalent right now, a friend received a robocall telling her this was the “final chance” (creating immediacy) to stop her Social Security number from being “suspended.” My friend thought she’d be safe calling back on the number from her caller ID rather than the call back number. The call center responder (a scam operation probably located outside of the U.S.) answered that she had reached the “Social Security Administration” and then asked for her Social Security number and other personal information to “find” her in the system. She told him that she wouldn’t give information on the phone and hung up. Although she had safeguarded her information, there was a problem with her calling back in the first place: the scammers now knew that the cell number was active and that they’d gotten her to call back even if she didn’t fall for this particular scam. She may be flagged for future scams. And keep in mind that these con artists can rig the caller ID.
What should you do? First, hang up the phone immediately whether it’s a robocall or a live person. Do not talk to the person nor press “1.” The Social Security Administration does not contact by phone. Second, never call back either the caller ID number or the number given in a message. If you really wonder if the call is legit, look up the number yourself online. This is the same advice if the call supposedly pertains to your credit card, bank account, utility bill or internet provider.
These are just two examples of recent scams reported to me. It’s important to talk to your family members about the various scams to help protect them and their assets from fraud.
For information, news and advice on scams and fraud, visit AARP’s Fraud Watch Network at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. You can also call the helpline at 877-908-3360.
Michelle Tabler is a former Alaska manager for the Better Business Bureau and currently volunteers for AARP Alaska.