Studies show that Americans over 50 are prime targets of scam artists trying to weasel into your bank account. They do this by using “scare tactics”, says a recent report in AARP Magazine. In 2012, the report says, Americans over 50 made up half of the almost $11 million loss from “intimidation schemes” reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. But other specialists say that this is just a guesstimate as many people are too embarrassed, or afraid, to report the scam. The true toll of lost senior money to scam artists may be much more.
Often, these scam artists threaten with violence, lawsuit, or arrest over supposedly missed loan payments. They threaten that unless you pay, you will face bogus court summons, or your computer will be sent a damaging virus wiping out all your valuable information. Many times, these intimidation goons come right to your door and actually yell at you through a closed door. Yes, really.
So, could you be a victim of a scam artist that preys on older Americans? How easily are you intimidated? Here are some of the tactics they’ve been using. Have you encountered any of these situations?
1. Your Money or Your Life. This is rather extreme, and may border on the ridiculous, but the study states that some scam artists tell people that a “contract has been placed on your life” and you can avoid death by paying off whatever they say you owe to someone. Interestingly, though, 1,354 people fell for this tactic and scam artists collected almost $2 million from them. They used Facebook and other online sites to collect personal information about the people and their family to give credence to their threat. Watch what kind of information you post on Facebook or other social media sites.
2. Stranger at the Door. Some scam artists impersonate public servants, city workers, utility company employees, stating they need your personal data for their records, or you need to make an immediate-at-the door payment on your overdue utility, cable bill, etc. Don’t fall for it, even if they flash some type of ID. Don’t open the door, take a breath, go and call the agency and ask if they’ve sent someone over. 9 times out of 10, they haven’t.
3. Shutoff Scare. These scams typically occur in the winter when the last thing you’d want is being told that your electricity or gas is going to be shut off for non, or under, payment of your bill. Yet, many scam artists take advantage of customers’ vulnerability in this area. They even go so far as to use special software that will fake your utility company’s name, phone on your caller ID. Tell them you’ll take care of your bill in person or online then hang up. Then, call the utility’s billing department and ask if someone has just called you about your bill. Usually, they haven’t. Sometimes these scam artists will appear at your door again flashing fake ID. Don’t fall for it. Most utility companies will send a past due, or impending shut-off warning a few times before actually shutting off your service. They want to keep you as a customer and wouldn’t use these over-the-top tactics to get you to pay your bill.
There are several things you can do to bolster your defense against intimidation. The most vulnerable people are older seniors living alone – especially women. Here are some more ways to guard against scamming:
1. Never give out a credit card, debit card, checking/savings routing number, or your social security number over the phone to someone calling you. Sometimes, you’re asked to give these out over the phone, if you’re applying for health insurance or needing to make a payment on a bill. If you’ve called them, and you’re sure you have the bona fide company, most always the transaction is safe. But, to ensure further safety, you can go online on their secure website to enter your information. These sites encrypt your data.
2. If you’re home alone a lot, never answer the door to someone you’re not expecting. During the day, “home improvement” sales people will often come to your door. Yet, many burglars and scam artists use this ploy to get you to open the door. A scam artist may just ask you for your personal information so they can set up a personal home improvement consultation later with you. But, a burglar is just hoping you’ll make their job easier by opening the door to them.
3. View fraud education videos like the one on CaregiverStress.com. Read how to further protect yourself against senior fraud.
AARP Magazine, Scare Tactics,September 2013.