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Protecting Your Elderly Family Members from Scams

As the number of aging Americans continues to grow, more and more scams are targeting people 60 and older, who are often perceived as more trusting and polite.

What kinds of scams are out there?
One of the most common frauds is known as the "grandparent scam," in which con artists scare their elderly suspects with a phone call in the middle of the night, catching them off guard with a heartbreaking story about a loved one. The "grandchild" is always in need of cash, asking the victim to wire funds through a money-transfer service and repeatedly mentioning not to tell anyone.

Besides the grandparent scam, those who prey on the elderly have plenty of other tricks up their sleeves. For example:

  • Scammers posing as telemarketers ask for donations to civic causes, attempting to appeal to the older generation's patriotism.
  • Imposters pretending to be with a government agency, such as the Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service, try to convince their targets that they must pay an exorbitant sum to comply with new regulations.
  • Crooks claiming to represent a well-known company, such as Wal-Mart, inform their targets that they've won a sweepstakes and need to make a payment to obtain the supposed prize.

How can you protect yourself and your older family members?

  • Never wire or send money to someone you don't know, no matter what the circumstances may be or how convincing the person is. Once you wire money, you cannot get it back. Also remember that legal sweepstakes don't require you to pay taxes or other fees in order to claim your winnings.
  • Don't forget your common sense. Fraudsters call at times when they think they can catch you off guard. They also create a sense of urgency, pressuring you to send them money before you find out who they really are. As disturbing as the call may be, remember to keep calm and rely on your common sense.
  • Question the caller. If someone contacts you claiming to be a family member, friend, or someone else you know, ask the caller questions to confirm his or her identity. You could quiz him or her on the date of a family's member birthday, the name of a pet, or the restaurant you last went to together.
  • Confirm the emergency situation. To determine if the situation is real, call sources who can verify where the person in question is. If someone calls claiming to be your grandchild, contact your actual grandchild's parents immediately.
  • Be wary of strange messages. Usually, these scams don't involve meeting anyone personally; rather, the scammers will keep their distance, contacting you by phone, letter, fax, e-mail, or even text message.
  • Know that scammers don't always ask for sizable amounts of cash. In most cases, it's between $500 and $5,000. If you wire money once, the scammer may continue to contact you in the hope that you'll keep sending money, upping the requested amount each time.
  • Protect your computer, tablet, and smartphone information. Don't let scammers get their hands on your e-mail account, phone contacts, or passwords stored on your electronic devices.
  • Contact your local law enforcement department if you're concerned that a con artist is targeting you.

Remember, scams are ever-changing, and fraudsters are constantly coming up with new ways to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. To stay up to date on the latest scam alerts, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/phonefraud/index.shtml.


2012 Commonwealth Financial Network