You thought this could never happen to you or your aging loved one: the heartbreaking loss of a hard-earned life savings as a result of a scam. But the growing incidence of senior fraud is putting many older adults in harm’s way. It’s important to know how to move forward if fraud does occur.
Steps to take if you or someone you know is scammed
• Close your accounts. If you notice any accounts under your name or that of an aging loved one that have been tampered with or opened without consent, close them immediately.
• Contact the police. File a report with your local police department. If the theft did not take place in your area, file a report with the police from the area where you believe the theft took place.
• Get a copy of the police report. You may need that documentation to support your claims to credit bureaus, creditors, debt collectors or other companies. If you are unable to obtain a copy of the police report, be sure to get the report number.
• Eliminate fraudulent new accounts. If a new account has been opened without you or your aging loved one’s knowledge and consent, ask the company with which the account has been opened if it has a fraud department.
• Initiate a fraud alert. Place a fraud alert on the credit file that has been compromised as well as review the credit report. This will prevent a thief from opening any more accounts in you or your loved one’s name. You should contact the major credit bureaus. If you place a fraud alert with one credit bureau, that credit bureau is required by law to contact the other bureaus.
• Follow-up. After a fraud alert is included in the credit history, you or your aging loved one is entitled to receive a free copy of his or her credit report from each of the credit bureaus.
Important documents for victims of scams
The following are important documents to keep on hand if you’ve been scammed. If your aging loved one won't be able to keep the originals of some of these important documents, it is important that you make a copy.
• Police report
• Identity theft affidavit
• Bills with fraudulent charges
• Documentation of accounts opened in your name without your consent
• Copies of letters sent to credit bureaus and creditors
Credit bureau contact information:
• Equifax- 800-525-6285
• Experian- 888-397-3742
• Transunion- 800-680-7289 (U.S.)
If you or your loved one is a victim of fraud, acting quickly is key. Begin working through the fraud checklist above as soon as possible to help minimize the damage.
Scams targeting older adults are on the rise and can present an enormous threat to an older adult’s security, both financially and emotionally. Seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion annually from financial exploitation, according to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Aging-adult fraud victims may suffer long-lasting trauma that often erodes their sense of trust and well-being, eldercare experts have noted.
Three crimes, in particular, are on the rise, according to fraud protection groups. These are Social Security fraud, the grandparent scam and unscrupulous charities. Experts detail these three offenses against aging adults.
1. Social Security spoofing. In this scam, unknown callers threaten victims, saying they will face arrest or other legal action if they fail to call a provided phone number or press the number indicated in the message to address the issue. If you receive one of these calls, hang up. Know that Social Security never calls people by phone unless you have ongoing business with them, and they never make threats about arrest or legal action. Report suspicious calls to the SSA Office of the Inspector General by calling 1-800-269-0271.
2. Grandparent scam. In this approach, a person calls an older adult pretending to be a grandchild who’s been involved in an accident or legal trouble and needs money immediately. If you or a loved one receives such a call, call that grandchild back on a correct phone number and verify their whereabouts. If you’ve mailed cash, report it right away to the Postal Service or shipping company you used. Be sure to also file a complaint to the FTC at gov/complaint.
3. Fraudulent charities. Scammers may impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-meaning consumers. To find reputable charities to support victims of natural disasters and other causes, use the IRS’s tax exempt organization search or look for an organization’s charity rating on places such as GuideStar and Charity Navigator. If you’re a disaster victim, use NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp® disaster assistance tool to find legitimate help with relief and financial assistance.
Arming yourself with information and helping to protect vulnerable seniors are among the best ways to fight fraud, experts note.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.