It was several years ago, and many of the details have become fuzzy, but Kendal at Home member Jane* can still recite the major plot points of the time she was scammed.
It all started when I got a phone call from a man I thought was my grandson, she says. He said he was in Canada, a group had come and gone to Niagara Falls. He had rented a car or something, they were pulled over at the border and their stuff was searched.
She continued, One of the young people's suitcases had drugs in it, so they were all arrested, and he needed money for bail. So he gets on the phone with his lawyer, and this adult said he needed several hundred dollars to make bail, and I had to wire money.
Jane says the voice, pretending to be her then high-school-aged grandson in California, pleaded with her not to tell his parents. She wired several hundred dollars as directed.
A day or so later, she says, I found out it was a scam. I felt like a fool.
Janes story is not unique. According to bankrate.com, older adults lose approximately $2.6 billion a year due to fraud and other financial abuses. Some of todays most popular scams include sweepstakes scams where scammers notify you that youre a big prize winner, but inform you that you must pay processing or shipping fees in order to receive your prize; scams offering free or discounted medical supplies for chronic conditions in exchange for personal information; and, like in Janes case, the grandparents scam where a frantic caller claiming to be a grandchild in trouble in a foreign country begs you to wire money to cover hospital bills, bail or emergency travel expenses.
Why Do Scammers Target Older Adults?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), scammers commonly prey on mature adults for the following reasons:
- They are most likely to have excellent credit.
- Those who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s were likely raised to be polite and trusting. Its difficult or impossible for these individuals to say no.
- Adults over 60 are less likely to report fraud because they don't know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed or don't know they've been scammed.
- It can take weeks or, more likely, months for them to realize they've been scammed, giving scammers plenty of time to clean up evidence.
- When they do report a scam, theyre often unable to provide enough detailed information for investigators, making them poor witnesses.
Protect Yourself from Scams
The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) offers the following tips to help older adults protect themselves from online phone scams:
- If an offer sounds too good to be true, ask to receive the unbelievable deal or the amazing prize offer in writing so you can read it carefully before making a commitment.
- Never give out your personal information over the phone or Internet unless you initiated the contact. Legitimate business callers will never ask you for this information over the phone.
- If a caller asks you to pay for an offer in advance or asks for your credit card number or Social Security number, tell him/her you don't give out personal information over the telephone.
The NCPC also reminds seniors that being shrewd is not the same as being rude. Legitimate telemarketers won't be turned off if you use these techniques. They will appreciate dealing with an educated consumer.
*This name has been changed to protect sources' privacy.