One of the hidden negative outcomes of the pandemic has been an uptick in scam attempts perpetrated against senior citizens.
According to AARP data, people over the age of 60 are significantly more likely to fall for tech scams than members of younger generations.
Molly Davies, the Executive Vice President of WISE & Healthy Aging, a Santa Monica senior advocacy nonprofit, said local residents have reported being scammed via telephone, text, social media, email and snail mail.
“There’s different ways that different scammers will try and reach out to people that they’re trying to steal money from,” Davies said. With tax season upon us, she said IRS scams are on the rise — but the IRS will never call you, Davies cautioned.
A recent panel hosted by State Senator Ben Allen provided tips for older community members to become aware of potential scams and help protect themselves.
“According to the AARP, people over the age of 60 are five times more likely to fall for tech scams,” Allen said at the start of the seminar, held virtually via Zoom. “On average, they’ll lose more money than younger victims of scamming, with those over the age of 80 losing more than four times the median losses of those in their 20s and 30s — even two to three times higher than other age groups.”
Allen’s panel included Kevin Durawa of the Contractors State License Board, Jackie Wiley of the Department of Financial Protection & Innovation, and Zuleimy Gonzalez of the California Department of Insurance.
Presenters offered a wealth of information about how to avoid scams, from shady contractors to falsified financial statements.
“It’s really sad, and it just gets worse and worse every day,” Wiley said. “We can only do our best by being proactive and become empowered by the information that we’re here to provide for you.”
Wiley said her agency — formerly called the Department of Business Oversight — regulates many types of financial institutions including banks, credit unions, lenders, loan companies, debt collectors and credit reporting agencies.
“When these scammers call, [or] if they’re texting or if they’re emailing you, the main goal is to get our personal information and to drain our accounts,” Wiley said. First and foremost, it is crucial to verify the information scammers offer: “Do your homework before you make a move,” Wiley said.
Common scams include individuals calling and posing as relatives. Verify that the person on the line is who they say it is. A major red flag is having someone, either posing as a relative or a debt collector, requesting victims buy hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards and read the card numbers over the phone. Do not fall for it, Wiley cautioned.
Another scam Wiley flagged is a false Social Security Administration call stating that personal information has been compromised and requesting verification.
“We all know that the Social Security Administration will never call you, so please remember if you get fearful — and all these calls are very frightening — don’t believe that,” Wiley said. “Don’t call the number that’s left on your answering machine. Pull up the Social Security Administration [contact information] to verify it. Go to the source.”
It’s also best to be wary of “free” financial relief opportunities offered over the phone. If your credit card company calls you offering a better plan, hang up, look up their official contact information and then call them back — the same is true for car payments and insurance rates.
“Remember, if they call you with the opportunity, please be mindful that that’s a red flag,” Wiley said.
A new COVID-19 era scam involves offering at-home testing kits, where scammers collect bank info or social security numbers and promise to provide tests or vaccines. It is always better to rely on hospitals, doctor’s offices and reputable sites run by the government.
A classic scam that has evolved during the pandemic is perhaps the most grim: preying on lonely, single elderly people, especially women. Scammers pretend to be romantically interested, shower victims with affectionate words and promises, and eventually convince their victims to send money or share private information.
Be on guard, Wiley said. Don’t send money to people you’ve never met in person.
Many romance scams are sophisticated, with scammers creating profiles based around real people, using real photos, Davies said. That way, if you search for them elsewhere online, their provided information checks out.
Key things to look out for are rushing toward intensity, like saying “I love you” very early on; never finding time to meet in person; poor grammar or grasp of English; moving quickly away from communicating via the app and toward texting, email or phone calls; overly professional looking photos; and asking for money or making threats.
“If someone is legitimately wanting to date or meeting you, they’ll want to meet in person, right?” Davies posed. “That’s the whole point of those dating services is to have an in person relationship with somebody.” Davies suggested that if someone on a dating site asks for money before they make time to meet, simply cut off communication.
Davies said WISE & Healthy Aging also offers an online support group for victims of romance scams.
“We see a lot of people who … feel very ashamed and don’t want to talk about what happened to them — don’t want to tell their families about it because they’re so embarrassed and ashamed,” Davies said. “And it’s one of those crimes that, you know, we’re often still blaming the victim for, but it’s not their fault.”
WISE & Health Aging provides resources online and over the phone. If you feel you may be the victim of a scam, or have questions about the validity of an information request, call 310.394.9871 or visit www.wiseandhealthyaging.org/elder-abuse-prevention.
The hour-long panel discussion, with much more insight from Wiley and other panelists, is available to watch on Allen’s Senate website, at www.sd26.senate.ca.gov/videos.