According to the “2018 DOJ Report on Senior Abuse and Financial Exploitation,” each year, an estimated three billion dollars is stolen from America’s seniors through various scams. Seniors often fall prey to imposters who claim to represent the IRS, Medicare or Medicaid, Social Security, or other legitimate businesses. Unfortunately, New Canaan is not immune to these scams. Over the years, some New Canaan seniors have suffered substantial financial losses.
In 2020, our Department investigated 54 fraud complaints, and some of these scams targeted seniors. This month, a resident contacted our Department to report receiving a call from an individual claiming to be from the Social Security Administration. The caller requested that the resident provide a social security number, stating the resident’s social security number was frozen due to fraud. The fraudster said that he was transferring the call to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for further investigation. The fraudster then asked what bank the resident uses and demanded that the resident wire funds. The fraudster went as far as to provide a copy of his DEA badge and identity card. Fortunately, the resident did not abide by the fraudster’s request, and no funds were transferred.
What is Senior Fraud?
Senior fraud, also known as senior financial exploitation, is the misappropriation or theft of financial resources. Most senior scams in New Canaan involve a stranger. The fraudster will often make contact with their victim online or over the phone. One common way that seniors are targeted over the Internet is through e-mail. General Phishing techniques, which are the fraudulent practice of sending e-mails purporting to be from reputable companies, are used against many e-mail addresses with messages aimed at seniors. Other schemes are more targeted and may involve e-mails or phone calls that are very personal and specific. Targeted attacks often use information gathered in general phishing attacks to help dupe the victim into going along with the scam, which usually involves social engineering.
What is Social Engineering?
Social engineering is the art of exploiting human psychology to gain access to personal information and commonly occurs by telephone and online.
- On the phone-A social engineer might call and pretend to be a service provider, software company, or a trusted outside authority such as a law enforcement officer.
- Online-Social networking sites make social engineering attacks easy. Today’s attackers go to sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., and gather detailed information that can be used to further an attack. Social engineers also take advantage of breaking news events, holidays, pop culture, and deaths in the family to lure victims. Scammers often use fake charities to commit crimes.
Why are Seniors Targeted?
Seniors are disproportionately targeted as victims of fraud. Our study estimated that in 2018, 1 in 10 seniors in the United States fell victim to senior fraud. Below are a few reasons why seniors are targeted.
- Impaired decision-making: It’s not uncommon to experience some level of diminished mental capacity as we age, which can lead to impaired decision-making abilities.
- Isolation: Many senior fraud cases wouldn’t have occurred if the victim had spoken to a friend, family member, or caregiver about what was happening. Many seniors are isolated and don’t have anyone to consult.
- Trusting: Most seniors have spent most of their lives without using e-mail. That can lead to confusion over how reliable e-mail is and how much trust to assign it.
What are Common Types of Senior Fraud?
One study estimated that just over half of senior fraud cases are perpetrated by strangers. Family members, friends, or acquaintances commit the other half. Many of the stranger schemes are carried out online, where e-mail, and social media, provide a way for scammers to connect with victims. Below are some common examples of senior online fraud:
- Charity Scams:
Frequently these scams will appear after a natural disaster or catastrophic world event. These scams typically involve a caller impersonating a genuine charity representative or fabricating a fake charity to scam you out of money.
- Grandparent Scams:
A fraudster will call claiming to be your grandchild in need of help. The caller posing as the grandchild typically asks for money to be sent quickly to help them out of some emergency (arrest, accident, injury, etc.). They might even tell you not to tell anyone about the situation because it could make their situation worse.
- Insurance Scams:
This scam persuades you to invest money that will benefit your family upon your passing.
- Investment Scams:
Many scammers will advertise a short-term investment opportunity as a way to safeguard your assets. Typically scammers will communicate via e-mail or telephone.
- IRS or Social Security Scams:
Callers claim to be employees of the IRS or Social Security. You will be told you owe money to the IRS or Social Security, and it must be paid promptly through a wire transfer or stored value card such as a gift card. If you refuse to cooperate, you will be threatened with arrest.
- Lottery Scams:
Fraudulent callers will claim you won the sweepstakes or foreign lottery. They will tell you that you have won vacations, cars, or millions of dollars. “Winners” need only pay fees for shipping, insurance, customs duties, or taxes before they can claim their prizes. The scammer tries to get you to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars and receive nothing in return.
- Romance Scams:
Many individuals today use dating sites. Scammers also use these sites to find lonely victims. They create fake profiles, build online relationships, conduct social engineering and eventually convince the victim to send money.
- Tech Support Scams:
A fraudster will contact you via telephone or internet pop-up messages on your computer claiming to be computer technicians associated with a well-known company (i.e., Microsoft, Apple, etc.) The scammers claim they have detected viruses, other malware, or hacking attempts on your computer. They pretend to be “tech support” and will ask you to give them remote access to your computer. They will ask you to provide a credit card number or wire funds to cover the repair costs for a fictitious problem with your computer.
- Widow Scams:
Scammers will often look at obituaries and contact widows or widowers and often come up with a story about your deceased spouse owing money. They may even claim to work for a financial institution associated with the deceased.
How to Prevent Senior Fraud
- Ask lots of questions when fraudsters contact you-If you ask a lot of questions, most fraudsters will hang up. However, some of these criminals are well-prepared and will try to use their answers to convince you. Still, multiple questions often reveal that the story is bogus.
- Be cautious when making purchases or sending information over the Internet. Ensure that the website you are using is secure and uses up-to-date encryption methods.
- Contact the New Canaan Police Department-Our Department investigates crimes related to fraud and identity theft. When appropriate, we notify and coordinate fraud investigations with the FBI and the United States Secret Service. If you receive a suspicious e-mail or telephone call, contact us, and we will help.
- Do not give out any personal information or money based solely on an e-mail-It’s easy to craft an e-mail to make it look like it came from a trusted entity. There should be no reason to send anyone money based solely on an e-mail request, even to people who appear to be friends or family. If e-mails become more frequent or have a sense of urgency, these should not be seen as signs that you should comply. Instead, they are big red flags indicating that this is a scam.
- Never give out personal information in response to unsolicited offers by telephone, e-mail, mail, Internet, or person. Unsolicited offers are often fraudulent.
- Never provide personal identifiers, account numbers, social security numbers, and other private information to someone unless you can ensure the information is secure.
- Review your monthly financial statements, and look for irregularities or fraudulent activity.
What to do if you have been a victim of Senior Fraud
- Call our Department at 203-594-3500 to report the incident. We are here to help.
- Contact any of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and ask that they place a “fraud alert” on your credit report.
- Contact the fraud department at each creditor or financial institution that provided the thief with unauthorized credit, goods, or services, and provide them with the police incident number assigned to your identity theft case. Keep detailed records of these conversations.
- Contact financial institutions with which you have open accounts, even if these accounts have not yet been accessed or used fraudulently. Explain that you have been the victim of identity theft.
- Get a copy of your credit report and carefully review it. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. To order, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
- Organize and keep a detailed log of all of your contacts and make copies of all documents. Document the names of all people you speak with and the time and date of your conversations.
Be better informed, connected, and send anonymous tips to our Department by downloading the “MYPD” application in the iPhone or Android marketplace. After downloading the application, search for “New Canaan” and get connected.
Please contact me directly at Leon.Krolikowski@newcanaanct.gov should you have a question, concern, or an idea for this column.