Useful tips for avoiding fraud and scams against senior adults
Scammers use many different tactics, such as stories about grandchildren in trouble, a million-dollar prize, a future romance, or a business deal, to try to steal people’s money. They may ask you to pay using money transfers, gift cards, and cryptocurrency, methods that send funds quickly and anonymously.
During National Seniors Month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission have partnered to help seniors, their families and friends know what to do if someone demands payment using these methods, and where to report fraud.
Keep reading to learn some tips to protect yourself against scams and fraud
- Do not transfer money. Transferring money is like sending cash. Once you’ve sent it, you usually can’t get it back. Don’t send money, even if someone has sent you a check, asked you to deposit it, and then wire some of the money back to them. That check is fake, and the bank will want you to pay the money you withdrew and transferred. It could also be a money mule scam, which will involve you in moving stolen money.
- Do not pay with a “gift card”. Gift cards are to give away. As soon as you give someone the numbers on the back of the card, those people have control over the card and the money is gone forever. No legitimate business, or government agency, will require you to pay with a gift card.
- Do not pay with cryptocurrency. If someone asks you to pay for something with Bitcoin, Ether, or any other type of cryptocurrency, he is probably a scammer. Payments with cryptocurrency do not have legal protections. If you pay with cryptocurrency, you usually can’t get your money back unless the person you paid returns it to you.
- Report fraud as soon as possible. If someone contacts you, asking you to pay them, or send you money, using one of these methods, please report it to the FTC. The information you share can help protect your community from fraud, scams, and malicious business practices.
Also, be sure to monitor your investments and ask questions. Too many seniors not only trust unscrupulous professionals and scammers when investing, but compound their mistake by failing to monitor investment performance. Insist that regular written and oral reports be submitted to you. Watch for signs of excessive or unauthorized transactions. Don’t be persuaded that this is normal.
Don’t let a misguided sense of friendship or trust keep you from demanding regular statements. If you think there is something suspicious and you are not satisfied with the explanations you receive, call the Investigations Division of the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions.
Be also aware that if you are having trouble getting your principal or earnings back, something is wrong. Many older adults do not need to invest, while others have to supplement their income. If a stock broker, a financial planner or other individual to whom you have entrusted your money becomes evasive when trying to withdraw your principal or earnings, this is a sign that he is trying to scam you.
Unscrupulous sellers pocket their victims’ money and come up with all sorts of explanations why the funds are not immediately available. It is common, that they try to persuade their victims to transfer non-existent “profits” to other more attractive investments and further delay the fraud being discovered. If your money is not invested in an instrument with a fixed term, such as a bond, you should be able to receive your earnings within a reasonable time limit.
Don’t let shame or fear stop you from reporting financial fraud or abuse (see more). When an older adult stops reporting to the authorities that she has been the victim of fraudulent financial schemes, it is because she is embarrassed or because she fears that she will be judged incapable of handling her affairs.
Some fear that being a victim of fraud will be used as an argument to put them in a nursing home or other type of institution. Accept that scammers are aware of these fears and are taking advantage of them to prevent or delay your decision to notify authorities. While it’s true that most of the money lost to financial fraud is rarely recovered, there are also many cases in which seniors who caught on early that they had been duped have been able to recover some or all of their funds by reporting what was going on.
A good resource for those who fear they have fallen victim to this type of fraud is the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions.