With the holidays here, many people will be heading home to spend time with family, possibly with older adult relatives. This can be a great opportunity to initiate a conversation about protecting finances, especially from scammers. Be sure your older relatives are aware of common scams targeting older adults and steps they can take to protect themselves.
“We always encourage people to regularly check-in with older relatives,” says Ruth MacKenzie, Sacramento County’s Senior and Adult Protective Services (APS)
Program Manager. “Twenty-five percent of all cases APS investigates involves financial fraud.”
Being the victim of a financial scam is a traumatic experience for anyone, but for seniors who often have limited income and no recourse to recoup a financial loss, it can be devastating. Seniors who fall victim to fraud can lose not only financially, but physically as well.
“In many cases, the financial loss and ensuing investigation takes a mental and physical toll on an older adult and can, sadly, sometimes lead to hospitalization and even death,” says MacKenzie.
APS regularly works with law enforcement when scams are perpetrated against seniors. Detective Natalie Medeiros has been with the Sacramento Police Department for 20 years and has investigated many cases involving seniors, including both physical and financial abuse.
Seniors, especially those who have deteriorated health or few family members, are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. According to a study by the Investor Protection Trust, more than 7.3 million Americans over 65 have been victims of fraud.
“Financial abuse can include fraud, theft, and an array of scams, many of which are targeted specifically at older adults,” says Detective Medeiros. “It’s important for us, as a community, to give seniors and their families tools to help safeguard against abuse.”
Below are a few scams prominent in Sacramento County:
- IRS: Victims are told they owe back-taxes to the IRS and must pay right away through wire transfer.
- Lottery: Callers inform victims that they have won the lottery or another sweepstakes and that they must pay taxes or a small payment to receive the prize.
- Utilities: One or two people go to a victim’s house, claiming to work for a utility company (PG&E, SMUD, Water District, Comcast, AT&T, etc.) and saying that something needs to be fixed right away. Once they gain access to the home, they steal things. Often there are two perpetrators; one pillages the house while the other distracts the victim outside.
- Grandparent Scam: Caller claims to be traveling in a foreign country with the victim’s grandchild who has been arrested and needs money.
These are only a few of the common scams currently making their way through Sacramento County. Schemes change often, and fraudsters are always trying to find new ways to deceive people. Detective Medeiros has a few tips to help seniors identify potential perpetrators:
- Scams are typically initiated with unsolicited contact either through a phone call, email, or in-person.
- Perpetrators will try to keep the victim distracted and keep him or her talking.
- Perpetrators will create a sense of urgency, often telling victims they must pay now or something bad will happen.
It is important to verify all information before sending any kind of monetary payment or allowing access to a residence. A legitimate company who contacts a client for a legitimate purpose will often encourage the client to verify the information the company representative is giving; someone who is attempting to scam an individual will discourage any attempt to verify information from a source other than them. It might be helpful to keep a list of contact numbers for law enforcement and utilities near the phone, for easy verification in an uncertain situation.
“My best advice is to always verify before allowing entry or sending money,” says Detective Medeiros. A quick phone call to ask if a particular utility company has people in the area or if a grandchild is really out of the country can possibly prevent a person from becoming a victim. Medeiros continues, “Never use a phone number or email address solicitors give you; always get the phone number from a bill or find it online.”
If you think you or an older family member may be a victim of a scam call law enforcement or Adult Protective Services
“Error on the side of caution,” says MacKenzie. “Reporting sooner rather than later can prevent additional loss.”