Scammed: It’s a word no older adult or family caregiver wants to hear. The growing incidence of fraud targeting older adults is putting more people at risk of losing their assets, their independence, and their trust.

I am sure you have heard of these three basic scams targeting aging adults sadly due to their success rates. The social security spoofing where and unknown callers threaten victims, or “The Grandparents Scam” where scammers pretend to be a grandchild in trouble needing cash, and the third- the fraudulent charities where scammers impersonate charities soliciting money.  Well, let me tell you, the grandparent scam is prolific in our own backyard here in Sonoma County.

Allow me to share how the grandparent scam was perpetrated against my own client living in Petaluma just this last weekend.  Someone called my client’s home and convinced her they were calling from the CVS pharmacy and that her prescription refill was ready for pickup. When she told them she doesn’t drive therefore she would have to wait to get it later.  The scammer used her good nature and convinced her to give them her home address and they would send a taxi to get her.  

Luckily our caregiver arrived at the home before the taxi did. The client told the caregiver, a taxi will be here in a few minutes to take us to the CVS to get my prescriptions.  Once it arrived, they got into the cab and proceeded to the CVS when the taxicab driver got a phone call from the scammer saying, “tell my grandmother that her prescriptions are not ready yet when she arrives at the drug store, but I need her to send me $499 in Visa gift cards.”  Immediately the caregiver knew that this was a scam.   The lengths the scammer went to get this older adult who doesn't drive, to the store to purchase and send Visa gift cards is frightening.  The reach and the capacity to build trust over the phone with aging adults is horrifying by these scammers.

A survey conducted for Home Instead Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead network, found that:

• 38% of the older adults surveyed in the U.S. report that someone has tried to scam them.

• 1 in 5 seniors is going without anti-virus software

• 67% of family caregivers have been the victim or target of a scam. Half do not use a password on at least one of their internets enabled devices.

What makes seniors vulnerable is that these scams can be complicated and confusing.  Conversations are key to help ensure older adults are safe. Some tips to help start the conversation are to get in touch with your emotions.  Stay calm and communicate openly and respectfully.  Consider starting the discussion with something along the lines of…

“I’ve heard something interesting on the news the other day, Grandma. They say criminals are posing as IRS agents and sending out emails demanding money.” Or “You know, Mom, passwords are very important to making sure that criminals aren’t able to get into your computer and even your telephone.” Or how about read them this article outlining what occurred with our client in Petaluma with the Grandparent scam.  

Consider discussing some of these safety practices in place with your aging loved one

• Share the risks of becoming a fraud victim with your aging loved one.

• Explain the importance of asking for all solicitations in writing.

• Sign them up for direct deposit and do not call lists.

• Shred unnecessary documents. 

• Create passwords and make them strong.

• Secure access to accounts.

• Think before acting, it’s ok to pause and question the situation. 

• When in doubt, throw it out or make it comfortable for your loved one to call and ask for your option without judgment on anything they are unsure of. 

• Share with care any personal information with anyone you don’t know intimately. 

Scams targeting older adults are on the rise even during Covid-19 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.

The important thing for you or an aging loved one to remember is if you are a victim of any scam, that you're not alone.  If you are a victim, report it to the local police department. 

Arming yourself with information and helping to protect vulnerable seniors are among the best ways to fight fraud, experts note. Devote time to learning how to spot a scam and keep yourself and the senior in your life from becoming a target of fraud.

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 parents, and In-Laws, 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?  Our team would love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime. Call and ask for Mariclair or Daniella.

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