Top Elder Abuse Scams

Security

10.26.20

Top Elder Abuse Scams


Romance Scams
The con works something like this: You post a dating profile and up pops a promising match — good-looking, smart, funny and personable. This potential mate claims to live in another part of the country or to be abroad for business or a military deployment. But he or she seems smitten and eager to get to know you better, and suggests you move your relationship to a private channel like email or a chat app. Over weeks or months you feel yourself growing closer. You make plans to meet in person, but for your new love something always comes up. Then you get an urgent request. There’s an emergency (a medical problem, perhaps, or a business crisis), and your online companion needs you to wire money quickly. He or she will promise to pay it back, but that will never happen. Instead, the scammer will keep asking for more until you finally realize you’ve been had.
 
Warning Signs:

  • Your new romantic interest sends you a picture that looks more like a model from a fashion magazine than an ordinary snapshot.
  • The person quickly wants to leave the dating website and communicate with you through email or instant messaging.
  • He or she lavishes you with attention. Swindlers often inundate prospective marks with texts, emails and phone calls to draw them in.
  • He or she repeatedly promises to meet you in person but always seems to come up with an excuse to cancel.
Impostor Scams
The scam generally starts with an unsolicited phone call, email, text or social media message. Con artists impersonate people and organizations you would ordinarily trust, or at least hear out. The most common pose involves government agencies such as Social Security, Medicare or the IRS — government impostor scams increased by more than 50 percent to nearly 390,000 in 2019.  But crooks might adopt any number of guises, including:
  • Companies you do business with — for example, your bank or the local power utility
  • Charities
  • A family member or friend
  • A lawyer or debt collector
  • Celebrities
Warning Signs:
  • You receive an unsolicited call or email claiming you owe money to a business, utility or the government, and risk dire consequences such as arrest or an account being frozen if you don’t pay immediately.
  • A caller says you’ve won a prize or qualify for a grant, but you must pay an upfront fee to collect it.
  • A caller claims to be from a tech company or internet service provider that has detected a virus or malware on your computer.
  • You receive a call or text message from someone who claims to be your grandchild or another close relation and to need money for an emergency.
  • The person contacting you asks for payment by wire transfer, gift card, prepaid debit card or cash. Scammers favor these methods because they are hard to track.

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
The initial contact in a sweepstakes scam is often a call, an email, a social media notification or a piece of direct mail offering congratulations for winning some big contest. But there’s a catch: You’ll be asked to pay a fee, taxes or customs duties to claim your prize. The scammers may request bank account information, urge you to send money via a wire transfer, or suggest you purchase gift cards and give them the card numbers. 
Regardless of the method, once scammers ensnare someone they'll keep coming back, calling victims for months or even years, promising the big prize is only one payment away. If you stop paying or cut off contact, they may threaten to harm you or a loved one or to report you to authorities.

Warning Signs:

  • You get a call or an online solicitation claiming you were automatically entered in a sweepstakes you’ve never heard of before.
  • You're told you need to make an upfront payment to collect the prize.
  • Someone calls you and says they have a winning state lottery ticket but needs help paying a fee to collect on it. According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, “Once a ticket is bought, no money is EVER required to claim a prize.”

Investment Fraud
The phone rings, and a friendly, energetic-sounding stranger is on the line asking if you have a minute to learn how to triple your money in just six months by investing in gold and silver mines. Or maybe you get an email urging you to buy shares of a company whose stock price is sure to go through the roof. It sounds too good to be true — because it is too good to be true. 

Warning Signs:

  • A caller who pressures you to send money right away to take advantage of a supposedly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 
  • A caller who uses phrases such as “incredible gains,” “breakout stock pick” or “huge upside and almost no risk!”
  • Recommendations of foreign or “offshore” investments from someone you don’t already know and trust. Once your money is in another country, it’s more difficult to keep watch over it.
Computer Tech Scams
Scam callers pretend to be connected with Microsoft, Apple or a familiar security software company such as Norton or McAfee and claim to have detected an imminent threat to the mark’s computer. They will ask for remote access to your computer in order to run phony diagnostic tests, then pretend to have found malware or a virus that’s set to freeze the machine or eat your data. Once they have you running scared, the crooks will pressure you to pay hundreds of dollars for repairs, new software, and other products and services you don't need. They'll ask for a credit card number so they can charge the transaction, or request payment by gift card or money transfer.  Worse yet, they might utilize their access to your computer to transmit actual malware that harvests personal and financial information from the device, which they can use for identity theft. Fake virus alerts are also popular.  Scam pop-ups can invade your computer when you land on a dodgy website — by mistyping a URL, for example, or following a link from a spam email. They might be served to you via “adware” or “scareware,” malicious code you can unwittingly acquire if you download free software. (If you’re a PC user, you might see a scam version of the “blue screen of death” you get when Windows crashes, except the message will be about a virus or other threat.) They‘re also a mobile scourge, with scammers attacking Apple and Android devices with phony alerts. The fake warning might be from a rogue cybersecurity company with an unfamiliar but plausible-sounding name like Spy Wiper or System Defender, but, as with tech support calls, scam pop-ups often mimic well-known tech brands. To ramp up the fear factor, the alert might be accompanied by blaring audio, or a long list of supposedly threatening files on your computer, and it won’t go away when you try to close your web browser. You’re urged to call a toll-free phone number to speak to a technician or click a link to buy or download (bogus) antivirus software. If you call the number, the scheme proceeds as outlined above: "diagnostic test," scary threat, sales pitch. If the pop-up came with a download link, clicking it will likely infect your machine with malware for real. 
 
Warning Signs:
  • You get an unsolicited phone call or email from someone claiming to work for a brand-name tech company such as Microsoft or Apple. Those companies say they do not contact customers unless the customer initiates communication.
  • A pop-up or blue screen appears on your computer, phone or tablet with a warning that a virus or other malicious program has infected your device. 
  • The message urges you to immediately call a toll-free number or click a link to get technical help or security software.
  • The message contains bad grammar or misspelled words
  • You are asked to pay for tech support or other services with a gift card, cash-reload card or wire transfer. The FTC says no legitimate company will ask for payment that way.

Imposter: Family/Friends
Grandparent scams typically work something like this: The victim gets a call from someone posing as his or her grandchild. This person explains, in a frantic-sounding voice, that he or she is in trouble: There’s been an accident, or an arrest, or a robbery. To up the drama and urgency, the caller might claim to be hospitalized or stuck in a foreign country; to make the impersonation more convincing, he or she will throw in a few family particulars, gleaned from the actual grandchild’s social media activity. The impostor offers just enough detail about where and how the emergency happened to make it seem plausible and perhaps turns the phone over to another scammer who pretends to be a doctor, police officer or lawyer and backs up the story. The “grandchild” implores the target to wire money immediately, adding an anxious plea: “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!” Fraudsters have also been known to ply this trick by email, text message and social media.

Warning Signs:

  • The person claiming to be your grandchild asks you to send money immediately and provides details on how — for example, via prepaid cards or to a particular Western Union office.
  • The call comes late at night. Scammers figure an older person may get confused more easily if they call then, the National Consumers League warns.

Online Shopping Scams:
The typical shopping scam starts with a bogus website, mobile app or social media ad. Some faux e-stores are invented from whole cloth, but many mimic trusted retailers, with familiar logos and slogans and a URL that’s easily mistaken for the real thing. They offer popular items at a fraction of the usual cost and promise perks like free shipping and overnight delivery, exploiting the premium online shoppers put on price and speed.
Some of these copycats do deliver merchandise — shoddy knockoffs worth less than even the “discount” price you mistook for a once-in-a-lifetime deal on, say, Tiffany watches or Timberland boots. More often, you’ll wait in vain for your purchase to arrive. And your losses might not stop there: Scammers may seed phony sites, apps, or links in pop-up ads and email coupons with malware that infects your device and harvests personal information for use in identity theft.

Warning Signs:

  • Bargain-basement prices. Internet security firm Norton says to be on guard if discounts exceed 55 percent.
  • Shoddy website design or sloppy English. Real retailers take great care with their online presentation.
  • Limited or suspicious contact options — for example, they only have a fill-in contact form, or the customer-service email is a Yahoo or Gmail account, not a corporate one.
  • URLs with extraneous words or characters (most stores use only their brand name in web addresses) or unusual domains — for example, .bargain, .app or a foreign domain instead of .com or .net.

Timeshare Resale:
The typical time-share resale scam works something like this: You get a call from a supposed broker who’s seen your “for sale” ad online and claims to have a buyer lined up and ready to make a deal. The caller might even provide a name and phone number for the buyer, who confirms his or her interest. The scammer sends over signed purchase documents that look legitimate, then asks you to provide a credit card number or make a wire transfer to cover any number of sale expenses: taxes, maintenance fees, closing costs, escrow and title services, or an upfront fee for the resale company. You may be promised a refund of some or all costs when the deal closes. But the deal never closes; the scammer has simply pocketed the fees, which could run into the thousands of dollars.

Warning Signs:

  • Any unsolicited approach by a reseller, particularly one who promises a handsome return on the sale. 
  • A resale company that claims your area is hot and they’re overwhelmed with potential buyers seeking time-shares. 
  • A reseller promises to modify or cancel your contractual obligation with the resort with which you have a time-share. The American Resort Development Association, an industry group, advises owners to be skeptical of such claims.

Resources:
AARP.org
AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline: (877) 908-3360
 

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