submitted by Kristen Orr, Tech Paralegal
May is Older Americans Month, and National Senior Fraud Awareness Day is May 15th. Though older adults on average lose more money to fraud than other age groups, they are still the least likely age group to report that loss. Be on the lookout for these scams affecting seniors.
Scammers are taking advantage of the confusion and strain of the pandemic to intentionally target people while they are more vulnerable. Keep an eye out for the following situations and protect yourself from these scams:
- Vaccines are FREE for everyone. If anyone is charging you for your vaccine or to schedule your appointment in exchange for a fee, that is a scam.
- There are currently only three vaccines authorized by the FDA for distribution in the United States: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. There are no FDA-approved vitamins, oils, oral supplements, topical ointments, or any other remedies proven to help prevent or cure COVID-19.
- While FEMA is offering funeral assistance for the families of people who have passed away as a result of COVID-19 (learn more about this program here: https://elderjusticeny.org/federal-emergency-management-agency-fema-covid-19-funeral-assistance/), FEMA is NOT reaching out to families directly. This is a program you need to apply for; if someone calls you to register for this program, hang up the phone – it is a scam.
- Millions of people are experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, and as a result there is an increase in solicitations for donations. Scammers are taking advantage of this situation and people’s good will by intentionally posing falsely as people in need and asking for contributions. Use websites like https://www.charitynavigator.org/ to confirm the legitimacy of an organization if you are interested in donating.
More and more seniors are turning to the internet to try to find love and friendship. While dating apps and Facebook can be great at fostering connections, scammers have locked onto online dating and social media as a way to target new victims and persuade them to send money by convincing them they are in a real friendship or truly in love.
- Do not send money to anyone, especially if you met online and you have never met in person.
- Most scammers do not use their real pictures; do a reverse image search of the photos they send you to see if they are associated with any other profiles or other names (click here for detailed instructions on how to conduct a reverse image search: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/1325808?co=GENIE.Platform%3DDesktop&hl=en).
- Talk to a trusted friend or loved one about your new relationship; it is easy to get caught up in the thrill of meeting someone new, and red flags can be easily missed.
- Common warning signs and lies romance scammers tell:
- They refuse to meet in person or video-chat, or break their promises to do so
- They ask for money, gift cards, or expensive gifts and are specific about how to send them
- They declare their love immediately, and the relationship progresses very fast
- They encourage you to stop communicating on the app where you met
- They claim they are in the military stationed overseas or working on an oil rig
- Their messages have poor spelling/grammar and the stories they tell are contradictory
- Learn more about romance scams and how to spot them at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-you-need-know-about-romance-scams
Recently there has been an increase in “grandparent scams” reported in Western New York. The scammer calls someone pretending to be their grandchild, often giving the grandchild’s full name and other identifying information to increase believability, and claims they were arrested and need cash to post bond, or they were hospitalized and need money for medical bills. Often an associate is looped in to play the role of an attorney, doctor, or police officer to lend credibility to their story. The “grandchild” tells the victim they need large sums of cash, urgently; in some cases, they add that a courier will be coming to pick up the money. Accomplices to the scammer will actually go to the victim’s house to try to pick up the cash.
- Do not act impulsively. The scammers are counting on your emotions to take over and for you to hand over the money without thinking. Take the time to process the situation and decide if the story makes sense.
- Verify their identity. No matter how urgent a situation might seem, there will always be time to call family members for confirmation.
- There have been reports of scammers actually going to their target’s house to collect the money in person. If someone shows up at your house and refuses to provide you with proper identification or leave the premises, call 911 immediately.
To obtain a free financial health checkup and screen yourself for risks of financial exploitation, please visit the Center for Elder Law and Justice’s Senior Financial Safety Tool at https://elderjusticeny.org/senior-financial-safety-tool/.
The Senior Financial Safety Tool project is supported through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime award number 2018-V3-GX-K024. The opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Project are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.