As a new year dawns, it occurs to us that our work is a mix of retrospective moments and prospective planning, focusing on difficult moments with the hopes of helping our clients move forward. We are proud of this work, but enjoy using this blog to help prevent these terrible moments. In this spirit, we turn today to the problem of financial scams targeting seniors. Elder abuse, one of our firm’s specialty practice areas, includes physical, emotional, and financial harm. Although people of any age can be impacted, seniors are disproportionately targeted with financial fraud targeting seniors on the rise. Today, our San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Rosa financial abuse lawyer looks at some common scams from 2015 with the hopes of helping readers guard their money in 2016.
The Top Ten Scams of 2016 (Plus Two)
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat recently ran an informative article that elaborates on the Better Business Bureau’s (“BBB”) list of the Top Ten Scams of 2015, a list we’d subtitle “That You Should Watch Out for in 2015”:
- The Back Taxes Scam: A caller claims to be from the IRS and demands immediate payment to cover tax debt. At least 1,100 victims lost a total of $5 million to these schemes in 2014 and many cases probably never came to light. The IRS responded, saying it would never call to demand payment. A similar scam references a fee for missing jury duty.
- Fake Debt Collectors: This caller says you have an unpaid debt, threatening jail time if you don’t pay a fee.
- “You Are a Winner”: By phone, mail, or e-mail, the scammer tells you that you’ve won a prize…but you have to pay a fee (e.g., delivery, processing, insurance) first.
- Virus Alert: A technician “helpfully” alerts you that your computer has been infected with a virus, offering to connect to your computer remotely and fix the issue for a fee. This scam can hit twice, taking the payment and stealing information off the target’s computer. Note: Although not mentioned in this article, we’ve seen similar scams involving smartphones.
- Grant Award: You’re contacted and told you’ve qualified for a government grant, but you need to pay a processing/delivery fee.
- Loan Scams: An advertisement lures people into applying for a fake loan, complete with very real processing fees.
- Credit Card: Promising an interest rate or perks that too good to pass up, the scammers ask you to supply personal and financial information. This scam is a reminder that giving out personal information can be even more costly than writing a check.
- “Make Thousands!”: Another identity theft scheme uses an advertisement promising a work-from-home opportunity, just complete some paperwork listing important personal information. We’ve also heard about long-running scams requiring you to buy products or otherwise pay an upfront fee with the promise of huge returns that never materialize.
- Fake Check/Money Order: It sounds easy, cash a check (there’s a story about why they need this help, often involving a foreign country) and wire the money to the intended recipient, keeping a fee for your troubles. The check bounces but only after you’ve already advanced the funds to wire the money.
- International Lottery: You’ve won an overseas lottery, but you need to pay fees or taxes before you can collect.
Although not part of the BBB “Top Ten” (and despite knowing we could never build a truly comprehensive list), there are two others we want to mention:
- Rental Scam: As The Press Democrat notes, this scam is particularly relevant here in Northern California. A seemingly ideal (and ideally priced!) property is offered for immediate rental. The catch? You need to “act quickly” and, sight unseen, pay a despite via cashier’s check. The property may be real (they often use online photos), the opportunity is not.
- Family Emergency: A team member’s mother-in-law received a call (and luckily spotted the scam) that fits into this category, mentioned on the Federal Trade Commission website. A caller poses as a relative in need of immediate cash while on a trip, fishing for (“Hey Grandma, guess who this is?”) or using social media to find convincing details before asking the money be sent via wire transfer.
Why They Work, How Much They Steal
Why do these scams work? Often, as a Santa Rosa officer told the Press Democrat, people feel pressure to respond immediately, making mistakes in the moment they might have avoided if they had more time to reflect. Sergeant Ludtke’s advice, which may sound clichéd but which is easy to forget: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How much do scammers make on these schemes? One survey estimates that some 17.6 million Americans lost in the neighborhood of $8.6 billion with an average reported loss just shy of $500. This is likely a gross underestimate since people may be too ashamed to admit falling for a scam (something the crooks count on!) or may not even realize it happened.
Helping Victims of Financial Fraud in Northern California
If you or a loved one has fallen victim to a financial scheme, including but not limited to scams targeting seniors, do not feel ashamed. It is not the victims who should be ashamed, it is the perpetrators. Do not let them win. Criminal court can punish offenders, but it is in civil court that victims really get their chance to hold wrongdoers accountable. Call our office at (800) 427-7020 to learn more.
As always, please do not hesitate to call about any form of elder abuse or nursing home neglect. We have offices for our elder abuse law firm in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, and Oakland or we can arrange to meet at another location convenient for you.
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(Image by Nic McPhee)