As heartbreaking as the reality is, the elderly population of our community is constantly faced with grave financial risk. It is hard to imagine that anyone could or would take advantage of our loved ones, but they are often, sadly, targets for scams.
The estimated cost of financial loss due to fraud for victims ages 60 and older is approximately $2.9 billion, according to a study conducted by MetLife® and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. MetLife even calls this elder financial abuse “the crime of the 21st Century.” Although considered a low-risk crime by the FBI, these scams can leave elderly victims financially devastated, as they may no longer have a means of income.
Garry Beckham, a resident of north Plano and a retired Air Force pilot, is no stranger to senior scams and often worries about his 90-year-old mother falling victim to a telephone scam. Only two months ago, Mr. Beckham’s widowed mother received a call from a man feigning to be her grandson, who lives in N.Y., saying he had been arrested after a car accident and needed money for his bail. Fearing for her grandson’s well-being, she quickly followed the caller’s instructions for her. She headed to the nearest Wal-Mart to set up a wire transfer of $1,500 to another Wal-Mart in Manhattan. Luckily for the Beckhams, the Wal-Mart employees sensed a red flag and encouraged her to double check her information before transferring such a large sum of money. She then called her son, and Mr. Beckham was able to identify that these were scammers who had called her. He immediately placed a fraud claim with Wal-Mart.
“From then on, I told her, ‘if this ever happens again, you just call me first,’” Mr. Beckham says. “Lo and behold, only two weeks after this all occurred, I had someone call me with the exact same scam, saying that my grandson was in jail and needed financial help.”
According to the National Council on Aging, telemarketing calls are the most popular scheme used on the elderly, as older demographic groups make more than twice as many purchases over the phone compared to the national average. Unfortunately, these are often the most difficult crimes to trace, as there is no face-to-face interaction and often no paper trail. Oftentimes, these con artists will also pass along the names of individuals they successfully scammed to other schemers who are looking for their next victim. Where does it end?
Mr. Beckham also spoke of his in-laws, who are both in their early 80s, nearly falling prey to a scam from an eye doctor trying to peddle medication at a significant upcharge to the patients. The receptionist at the office offered a one-month trial of a medication for macular degeneration for $40. However, after a little research, Mr. Beckham and his wife discovered the medication could be bought over-the-counter at any generic drugstore for only $25 for a three-month supply. Counterfeit prescription drug scams have also significantly risen in popularity over the last decade, with the Food and Drug Administration investigating 50 percent more of these cases per year. “The fact is that it seems like everybody is trying to scam somebody. You have to be savvy and stay alert on the latest cons,” Mr. Beckham shares. Mr. Beckham also spoke fondly of a friend of his who is a retired doctor from South Africa, who ever so quaintly refers to the U.S. as “scam nation.” This does, at times, not seem completely unfitting!
Another very common scam is conducted through Internet fraud, with pop-up browsers acting as virus scanners, emails with links asking the recipient to “update” their personal information and so much more. This, too, is often targeted toward senior citizens, as con artists tend to perceive this generation to be less technologically savvy and therefore less suspecting of errant emails. “My sister accidentally followed a link in an email from a sender she was not familiar with and ended up with a locked screen and a suggested number to call,” Mr. Beckham explains. “So, she calls this number and the guy on the other end of the phone tells her it is going to cost her $2,500 to fix her computer. These guys are just looking for people who do not understand computers.”
Scammers tend to target the elderly because they are vulnerable — often isolated from family, perhaps recently widowed, physically or mentally disabled, etc. The AARP® reports that, in general, the elderly expect honesty in the marketplace and are less likely to report a fraudulent crime, whether out of embarrassment or a lack of knowledge on their rights. “This is something we are aware of happening in our community and we do speak on this subject at some of the local retirement communities,” says Officer Colby Hill, a public information officer at the Frisco Police Department. “We also encourage people who are worried they may have been scammed to visit our website and check out our financial crimes section (friscotexas.gov/1210/financial-crimes), where we have several resources available to help assist them.”
Another great resource for Frisco residents is The Senior Source, a premier nonprofit organization that serves the greater Dallas area to provide services to assist and connect older adults to resources, opportunities and independence. The Senior Source boasts an Elder Financial Safety Center, which was created specifically to help aging adults evade the hazards of financial exploitation. This center was created through a partnership between The Senior Source and the Dallas County Probate Courts and District Attorney’s Office and is the only program in the nation created specifically to aid older generations. The Senior Source can be contacted through their website, theseniorsource.org, if you would like a Money Smart for Older Adults seminar presented to your group or organization.
In Frisco, as much as anywhere else, the elderly population must know how to defend themselves should a scam or potential risk arise. If you become the victim of or witness a scam, take charge. Contact the Financial Crimes Unit of the Frisco Police Department at 972.292.6200 or visit friscotexas.gov/1210/financial-crimes.