“Hi Grandma, it’s me. I am in a bit of a bind and need you to send me money immediately please.”
“We are contacting you because you have the same name as the deceased who had an overseas investment worth $1.1M, which you now stand to inherit. There is a processing fee to obtain your money so please send us $30,000 to retrieve your inheritance.”
“We understand your love of animals and our shelter is in dire need of funds or we will shut down next month.”
“Hi, this is tech support and we notice you have a virus on your computer. We can fix it remotely if you give us your login information. And the cost to fix the problem is $500.”
“I’ve been taking care of mom for three long years and I should be getting more from her will and trust. I’m going to have her change her will and trust to give me more inheritance.”
Elder Financial Abuse on the Rise
Each year, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of elder financial abuse or elder identity theft, resulting in irreversible financial losses and significant psychological distress. Our elderly population is disproportionately targeted by various types of fraud because they have financial savings, own a home and have good credit. Combine these tangible assets with the fact many seniors are widowed, lonely, trusting, or of diminished mental capacity, and they quickly become very attractive to scammers. And sometimes those scammers turn out to be people they know, like family or caregivers, who feel they are “owed” money and take advantage of their elders’ finances.
Let’s take a look at these scams, and see how you can protect yourself, your family, and the seniors you love.
Investments – As morbid as this sounds, these scammers consistently review the obituaries to find their next target and unfortunately, we have clients who have experienced this firsthand.
Fraudsters can claim they are a distant contact of the deceased spouse and the deceased owed them money; or, in the case of our clients, they claim they are representing a financial institution where the deceased had overseas investments and in order to claim the money, you need to send them money to receive the funds.
In the examples of our two separate clients, the surviving spouses received a letter in the mail, claiming to be a financial institution from two different overseas countries where the deceased apparently had over $1M in profits from an old investment. However, in order to retrieve the money, the surviving spouse must send a large chunk of money to this overseas financial institution to pay the processing fee before they can inherit the money.
Thankfully, both of these clients were suspicious enough to have the fraudulent documents reviewed by their friends, as well as their trusted attorneys and financial advisors to prove their gut instinct was correct, resulting in no loss of their financial assets.
Romance – These bottom of the barrel scammers also research local obituaries, then contact the surviving spouse by phone or social media and represent themselves as either an old acquaintance from school, church, the old neighborhood, etc. They spend weeks or a few months building a relationship over the phone or email, and then eventually ask for money to help them with travel or medical issues.
Claiming to be tech support is a popular scam to perform on the elderly due to their lack of computer savvy in the digital age. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2018, people age 60 and older were five times more likely to report losing money than younger people in tech support scams. They may also be calling to obtain personal and banking information to use later for identity theft. Fraudulent tech support calls come in various forms:
- They call claiming they have detected a virus in your computer and will charge you a few hundred dollars to “remove the virus”.
- You receive an email, text or on-screen message claiming you have computer issues and they need to access your computer remotely to fix the problem. In doing so, they request your passwords and other personal information to commit identity theft; or install malware to secretly access more personal and financial information for their personal financial gain.
When caregivers are involved in elder care, both physical and financial, often times problems arise when it comes to money. Family members and independent caregivers have been known to engage in elder financial abuse, claiming they are “owed” money because they are providing challenging care for that senior individual.
Elder financial abuse is defined as essentially any unauthorized or improper act of an individual that uses the resources of an older individual for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, or that results in depriving an older individual of rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings or assets. As disheartening as it is, this often occurs when a family member or seemingly trusted friend or caregiver is given fiduciary responsibility over a senior’s finances, and that fiduciary acts in the best interests of themselves, rather than the best interests of the trusting, elderly individual.
In another heartbreaking type of elder financial abuse, a thief will call an older person pretending to be their grandchild in need of help. They have extracted enough details about the grandchild from the internet, such as his or her name, city and school, to weave together a believable story. The con artist may also call late at night or in the middle of the night, startling the senior awake and sounding frantic because they are in trouble and need money quickly. Because the senior is half awake, it may be tough to discern the voice on the other end is not their true grandchild.
Charity, Fundraising, Lottery
Charity scams and fundraising scams tend to be more common (and successful) during, or following, major events, such as natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes), health crises (Covid-19/Coronavirus), or political movements or elections. They will make contact via phone, email, text or mail and because people tend to be more giving during these times, they are more likely to hand over their money.
Criminals also pose as officials from a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, claiming you can retrieve your winnings after you pay a “fee”.
Government Entity (IRS Scams & Social Security Scams)
We all know taxes must be paid every year and because filing tax returns can be a somewhat complicated process, hearing that you may have made an error and owe money may not come as a surprise. Which is why this is a popular scam for criminals to perform on the elderly.
The caller pretends to be from the IRS and states that you have a tax debt that is owed and must be paid immediately to avoid penalties or arrest. Criminals also pretend to be a Social Security staffer, claiming there is a problem with your account because of suspected illegal activity and you are owed a cost-of-living increase. In both these cases, the caller will pressure you to provide personal information, banking details, or send money to avoid monetary penalties or threaten arrest. But what they are really after is your money or personal information to commit identity theft and drain your finances.
We Look Forward to Serving You and Wish You the Best
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The Law & Stein Newsletter is a monthly publication to share useful information with our clients in matters of estate planning, tax planning inheritance dispute litigation, elder abuse, probate and business litigation, and premises and product liability defense.
Written by Shawn C. Winkler, Law & Stein LLP
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