Scammers take advantage of nearly 5 million older Americans every year, with the annual cost of financial abuse estimated at $36.5 billion.
Criminals often target people over 60 because they’re more financially secure, they may experience memory issues, and they tend to be more trusting. Credit union staff should brush up on these scams to protect older members:
This ploy may be the most devious because it takes advantage of many older adults’ biggest vulnerability: the love of their grandchildren and the fear of putting them at risk.
Criminals will call an older person and say something like, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of a grandchild the scammer sounds most like, the fraudster has established a fake identity without any effort or background research.
Once the grandparent “correctly guesses” which grandchild is calling, the scammer will ask for money to solve an unexpected financial problem, such as overdue rent, car repairs, or even a hospital bill because the grandchild has been in an accident.
The funds must be paid via Western Union, MoneyGram, or a similar method. The scammer will also beg the grandparent, “please don’t tell my parents.”
Seniors can be particularly vulnerable to pet scams, especially if they’ve lost a loved one and are looking for a companion. A scammer will post a picture of an adorable puppy that’s available for an unbelievably low price. There’s usually a heartbreaking background story about why the animal needs a new home ASAP.
Once the older person contacts the seller (scammer), they must pay a number of fees—up-front adoption charges, shipping costs—via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Then, after paying those fees, multiple delays and additional fees arise, including insurance costs, specialized veterinary care, and quarantine costs. In reality, there was never a puppy and the victim’s money is gone.
Scammers will pose as support representatives offering to resolve issues related to a compromised email, financial account, computer virus, or even a software license renewal.
These scams usually start with a phone call or a pop-up warning of a computer problem that provides a number to call. The fraudsters often claim to be from Microsoft or Apple, and they may even spoof caller ID to make it look like one of these companies is actually calling.
In another twist, they get people who actually need computer help to call them by posting phony customer support numbers for well-known companies online. These scammers convince people to hand over remote access to their computers and then make a big show of “troubleshooting.”
They may open system folders or run scans that show evidence of a problem. Then they ask for money for supposed repairs and fake service contracts.
Romance scammers usually create fake profiles on dating websites and on social media sites. While they can be hard to spot, the tactics they use are common. For example:
While the scammers may be easy to spot from the credit union’s perspective, your members may not take kindly to suggestions that their new love is actually a criminal. They’ll remind you that it’s their money and they can spend it however they like.
While this is true, it doesn’t make watching members lose their life savings any easier.
This scheme takes on various scenarios. Generally, the scammer tells the potential victim (the “pigeon”) they’ve found a large sum of money and will split it if the victim makes a show of good faith by giving cash to the scammer to hold while they determine how to split the money.
This ruse often occurs in a store parking lot, where the scammer approaches the selected victim and claims to have found a bag, briefcase, or envelope, and asks whether it belongs to the victim.
When they look inside the bag for identification, they find what appears to be a large amount of cash with some indication it comes from an illegal activity, such as gambling or drugs, so returning the money is impossible.
The final step is the request that each person who “found” the money offer a deposit of their own money to show good faith that they will split the funds. Once the victim provides their “good faith” cash, the scammers deftly switch out the “found money” for a look-alike bag or envelope full of useless paper.
The scammers are long gone with the victim’s good faith money before the victim determines the “found money” has been switched.