This week is National Fraud Awareness Week. According to the National Council on Aging, scams directed at seniors are on the rise.1 While people of all ages fall victim to fraud, seniors can be especially susceptible to fraud and scams.
The unfortunate thing about scams it that often, there is no way to recover the lost money. This means that education and prevention are crucial tools for addressing elder fraud and scams. Let’s use this year’s National Fraud Awareness Week to educate ourselves so we can stop scams before they happen.
Scammers and fraudsters are crafty and they are always coming up with new scams. The following scams and fraud are trending now:
Romance scams are very common right now. These scams are often perpetrated over social media or dating websites. With this scam, you meet someone online who charms and woos you. Often times, the scammer will suggest that you move your communications to a private channel. This person that you’ve met is never able to meet in person. They may tell you that they are overseas working. They may tell you that they are working on an oil rig, as a doctor, or in the military. Eventually, this person asks you to send money via an untraceable method, such as wire transfer. They may also ask you to share your bank account or other personal information with them. Romance scams are one of the costliest scams for seniors. Be wary of anyone who romances you online but is never able to meet in person. Also be suspicious of anyone who asks you to send money via an untraceable method, such as a wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency.
Fake Refund Scams
With fake refund scams, the scammers will tell you that they have accidentally deposited X amount of dollars in to your bank account. You are told that you must refund them that money, often via wire transfer. In reality however, the scammers have simply accessed your bank account and moved your own money between different accounts to make it look like one of your accounts has received a new deposit. Be wary of anyone who tells you that they have accidentally given you money and who says that you must refund the money via an untraceable method, such as wire transfer.
Tech Support Scams
With this kind of scam, the scammer will tell you that there is some kind of problem with your computer and they can fix this problem. The scammer might tell you this over email, over the phone, or the message may come as a pop up message on your device. In all these scenarios, the message is unsolicited. The scammer will ask you for remote access to your computer. Once they gain access, they steal your personal information and access your bank account or other accounts. Be wary of any unsolicited messages that tell you that there is a problem with your technology and do not respond to these messages. If you are concerned about your device, take that device to a trusted computer repair person in your community and ask them to clarify whether there is in fact a problem with your device.
Energy Company Fraud
One type of fraud happening now involves utilities. Often this fraud involves solar companies, but it can involve other types of utilities, such as natural gas. With this scheme, the fraudsters go door to door and offer a product like solar panels. They often lie about the benefits or impact of their services or products. They may make fake promises and offer false incentives to you, such as promises that they will pay you, that PG&E will pay you, that you’ll earn money from their product or service, or that you will not have to pay anything. The fraudsters may have you sign a contact using DocuSign, a digital platform for signing documents, and then never give you a copy of the contact. They may install solar panels onto your home that do not work or that are faulty. You can wind up being on the hook to pay for solar panels for many years and having auto deductions from your checking account. Be wary of anyone who comes to your door and gives you an unsolicited offer for solar panels or another product or service related to your utilities.
Signs of Scams and Fraud
Scams and fraud share many qualities. Learn to recognize these qualities so that you can spot different types of scams and fraud. The following are signs of a scam:
- Asks you to keep it a secret from anyone else
- Asks you to send money via Bitcoin, wire transfer, MoneyPak cards, or any type of gift card
- Asks you to claim a package or participate in a survey for a free gift
- Pressures you to make the deal right then and there
- Asks you to “confirm” your social security number of other private information
- Threatens that you will be sued or go to jail if you do not pay
- You have to pay money to get money
- Seems too good to be true
How to Protect Yourself from Fraud
Keep the following in mind when doing business:
- Do your homework first and make sure anyone you hire is licensed and reputable
- Only do business with those who are local
- Insist on and check out referrals
- Never respond to someone who comes to your door or calls you with an offer
- If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
- Get multiple bids for jobs from established businesses
- Don’t rush and beware because rarely is there a reason for an offer that is “good for today only”
- Don’t accept work from an unlicensed contractor
- Don’t allow work to be without a contract that specifies materials used, a completion date, and a fair payment schedule that pays for work as completed
- Never hire an unlicensed contractor
- Don’t pay a down payment before work begins if that down payment exceeds $1,000 or 10% of the contact price, whichever is less
Where to Report a Scam
If you are scammed, you should always report the scam regardless of the amount of money that you lost. Follow this checklist when reporting a scam:
- File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, regardless of dollar loss ic3.gov
- Contact local law enforcement
- Contact your financial institution (bank, credit union, etc.)
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau http://www.consumerfinance.gov/
- Federal Trade Commission go
If you are a victim of fraud or you have a question about whether something is a scam, call Contra Costa Senior Legal Services for assistance at (925) 609-7900.