This week’s column is focused on financial scams and abuse, which are usually directed at elders. Financial abuse happens when money or property is stolen, including forging checks, taking someone’s Social Security payment, or using their credit card without permission. Abuse also occurs when names on bank accounts or life insurance policies are changed by scammers. Victims of financial abuse are often too embarrassed to tell anyone they were tricked or they don’t believe someone they trusted would steal from them. Warning signs for financial abuse includes: the person is no longer able to cover regular bills; is paying for excessive, unexpected gifts to others; or giving power of attorney, changing beneficiaries, or transferring property to an unexpected person.
Most often, the elderly are victimized by family members. But criminals often target the elderly because they often own their home and have savings. Although any of us can fall for scams, elders are generally more vulnerable to pushy or confusing tactics. Scammers know elders might pay for things they didn’t order and don’t even want, often because they may be afraid they don’t remember ordering items, or are embarrassed they don’t understand what they’re supposed to pay for.
Organizations like Scambusters.org and the Federal Trade Commission (Consumer.FTC.gov) have great information about recent scams. Here are some common scams and how to avoid falling for them.
Charity scams: Suspicious requests for donations — for vets, firefighters, police, cancer research — are always common. The Las Vegas shootings and recent hurricanes led to scammers calling to cash in on those tragedies. Look up unfamiliar charitable organizations before you give to make sure your money will be used to help those in need.
New Medicare cards: The federal government is issuing new Medicare cards and numbers to remove Social Security numbers (SSN). Criminals posing as Medicare representatives are trying to trick seniors into paying them for the new card and providing confidential information. In reality, you will automatically get your new card by mail: you don’t need to do anything.
Healthcare fraud: Medical providers are regularly caught overcharging or charging for care that wasn’t provided. It’s important to review billing statements for accuracy.
Social Security: Criminals will claim to be from SS and ask for your SSN to verify the information for security purposes. The SS Administration will never ask for confidential information over the phone.
Equifax breach: Scammers are claiming to be Equifax representatives and ask for confidential information for a non-existing credit monitoring services.
Debt collectors: Use of threats of jail and aggressive language to intimidate people into making credit card payment or revealing personal information, sometimes for phony debts. You can’t be jailed for failing to pay a debt. Always ask for a written accounting of what is owed before making any payment.
IRS scams: A demand for money to pay taxes or promises of a refund to get your private financial information. The real IRS always mails a letter.
Unlicensed/ unskilled offers of home repair: These scammers often come into areas after natural disasters or push unnecessary home repairs on seniors. Always get references and check licenses.
Grandparent scam: A call from a “grandchild,” needing money wired right away for an “emergency,” like a medical bill, or bail after a DUI arrest.
Advanced fee scam: You are told you won the lottery or can make a great investment, but you have to pay a small fee in advance.
Share this information with your family and always protect your personal information.
Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc. (CAV) which offers free confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking; community and school violence prevention programs; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; counseling; shelter; transitional housing; and community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV’s 24-hour crisis line at (575) 758-9888. For more information, visit TaosCAV.org.