Retirement Planning, Elder Law, and Senior Finance

8/6/2021 | By Annie Tobey

Your phone rings. The display shows an unknown number, but you’re expecting an important call, so you pick up. A voice says, “This is You have a suspicious charge of $679. If this was not your purchase, press 2 and we can issue you a refund.” You need to respond, right? Not if you know how to avoid a scam!

Our world is filled with kind souls, but it’s also populated by a few evil, selfish people. These despicable criminals trick other people out of their hard-earned money. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received 2.2 million fraud reports. Scammers cast a wide net, and they prey heavily on seniors. To avoid being scammed, it helps to know scammer strategies and tips for being cautious.

‘Oh, I’d never fall for that’: Scammer strategies

Don’t be embarrassed if you fall for a scam – just be cautious! These savvy swindlers are masterful manipulators, sucking in even the dubious.

A scammer recently called my workplace using a common scam: that the electric bill was overdue and power would be turned off within the hour unless payment was made immediately. Three people in the office were almost convinced that the caller was legitimate.

Common scams include callers posing as grandchildren and other family members; as representatives of government agencies, sweepstakes, utility companies, and charities; online sites posing as legitimate retailers or as tech support; and romance scams.

A recent YouTube video, “Glitterbomb Trap Catches Phone Scammer,” sheds light on several tricks used in a common con game and on how to identify a scammer. YouTuber Mark Rober, engineer and advocate, collaborated with law enforcement to track scammers and retrieve $30,000 for two senior women. Rober’s video of the sting is gratifying, seeing criminals caught in the act. And it’s instructive on how to avoid a scammer, illuminating how the shysters manipulated their marks.

The scam begins with an email confirmation for an expensive order that the recipient, Tracy, didn’t place. But no worries, Tracy can call a number on the email to cancel the order. Unbeknownst to Tracy, this number connects her with the scammers’ call center. The friendly call center is, of course, very happy to help. They send Tracy a link that grants the call center access to her computer.

Rober’s video continues with the intricacies of the scam. It shows psychological ploys that the scammer uses to convince Tracy to send thousands of dollars of cash.

  1. The scammer uses technical jargon to confuse her.
  2. He compares Tracy to his granny, to pull at her emotions and build a “relationship.”
  3. He makes it appear that she makes a mistake, supposedly issuing herself a refund of thousands of dollars.
  4. Then, since the over-refund is supposedly her fault, he plays on her guilt – “Please save my job, ma’am. If I’m not earning for my family, my family will die due to hunger.” When she’s upset by the circumstances, he says, “You’re making me cry now. I’m getting attached to you. I also feel bad for you – you’re like my grandmother.”

Another common ploy that scammers use, Rober explains, is yelling at the victim, which causes stress and hampers their ability to make rational decisions.

And once you’re on the scammers’ lists, they will keep coming back for more, magnifying your problems and shrinking your bank accounts.

7 Common Senior Scams

10 tips for how to avoid a scam

Despite officials’ best efforts, most scammers are never caught, and most money is never recovered. So the best defense is to keep it from happening in the first place.

1. Make a pact with someone you trust.

Whether close friend or family member, determine someone to contact when you get an out-of-the-blue call or email regarding money. You can help each other think through the situation.

2. Set limits and alerts on accounts.

Many credit card companies, banks, and retirement savings accounts offer the ability to freeze accounts based on unexpected activity. Alerts can go to the account holder and a trusted advisor.

3. Screen incoming calls.

If you don’t recognize a phone number, let the call go to voicemail. If the call seems to be from a government agency, let it go to voicemail – con artists can “spoof” a caller ID. A valid caller will leave a message, and scam messages are easier to deflect.

4. Never trust an incoming call or email.

One of the best methods on how to avoid a scam? Be wary of “important” calls and emails.

If you receive a call, message, or email from a financial institution, utility company, charity, etc., do not respond directly. Instead of using a suggested number, link, or QR code, find a contact that you know is valid, such as from the back of a bank statement or utility bill.

5. Back away from any high-pressure pitch.

One way that shysters get past a victim’s defenses is by putting on the pressure. “If you don’t act now, your power will be cut off,” they’ll warn, or, “You won’t win this huge sweepstakes” or “You’ll get in trouble with the law!” Government and utilities do not operate this way.

6. Never trust anyone who tells you to lie or be secretive.

Scammers realize that a friend or business representative who figures out what is happening will shut it down. Instead, they rely upon the mark to be secretive and deceptive. Don’t do it!

7. Never send cash, money transfer, or gift card.

No legitimate 21st century financial or government institution operates only with cash. Money transfers and gift cards are valid for use with family and friends, but they are untraceable, so money sent to scammers is gone forever.

8. Never give personal information to an incoming caller.

Legitimate organizations won’t call, email, or text you to get passwords or PIN numbers, social security numbers, etc.

9. Never grant computer access to an incoming caller.

The same tip applies if you call a number on a questionable email. But now you know better than to call such a number anyway!

10. Don’t hesitate to be rude!

Remind yourself how terribly “rude” it is to be scamming people and be rude right back.

And remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

To report a scam or other fraud, contact:

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey