October is National Crime Prevention Month. We all know that scammers exist and like to prey on older adults. What you may not realize is that scams are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated. According to the FBI, between 2018 and 2019 scammers collected $700 million from about two million people, most of which were over 70. The Federal Trade Commission reported that people of all age groups lost about $2,000 each in 2018; that number jumped to $9,000 for people over 70. These numbers are likely higher because of victims being too embarrassed to press charges.
One of the current scams going around involves people going door to door and offering to swap your cheek to test your DNA for signs of genetic diseases or adverse medication side effects. They take down your information and Medicare card. Victims likely never see the results of their “tests” and the scammers bill Medicare for thousands.
Michigan has a high rate of scams, with the most popular type being imposter scams where a scammer calls pretending to be a loved one in an emergency or in need of a large amount of money immediately (this replaces identity theft, which was the top scam in 2018).
What can you do to protect yourself or your loved ones from scams? How do you keep up to date about all the various and constantly changing scam of the moment?
There are some concrete steps you can take:
- Tell your loved ones when you hear about a new scam targeting older adults
- Call and/or visit your loved one. Many older adults become victims of scams because they’re lonely. Visiting also lets you observe warning signs that your loved one is being taken advantage of.
- If your loved one has a caregiver, check in with them regularly.
- Remind loved ones (and yourself) that the IRS and Medicare will never call for information or payment over the phone. If they get a call like this, it’s a scam.
- Remind your loved ones that if they buy something online, they should be able to pay with credit/debit cards. If the website they’re buying from wants a wire transfer or other unusual form of payment, it’s probably a scam.
Set Up Safeguards
- Talk to your phone provider about flagging potential scam or telemarketing calls. Many cell phone companies offer this free of charge or for a small monthly fee. Click here for more information.
- Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry for free to avoid telemarketing calls
- A popular scam involves a scammer pretending to be a grandchild in distress and in need of emergency funds. Set up a code word so that your loved one can know whether it is really their grandchild calling (it likely isn’t!)
- Give your loved one an index card to keep by the phone or front door with a short script so they know what to say to potential scammers.
- Maintain a relationship with someone at the bank so you know who to reach out to if you’re not sure something’s legitimate.
- Immediately report any scams to law enforcement.
- Remember that if you do accidentally pick up a scam/telemarketing call, you can always just hang up. It’s best to not say anything and just hang up the phone.
- Talk to your local library or senior center about hosting a presentation about avoiding scams. They can visit the Attorney General’s website to request a free presentation at their senior center and download other useful tips. You can visit the same website to see a calendar of scheduled presentations.
- Click here to see the National Council on Aging’s list of common scams. Click here to see a similar list by the FBI.
- Click here for a list of general online tips for older adults
You can see more tips by visiting the Attorney General’s Office.
Together we can protect the vulnerable adults in our community.