Promoting Senior Wellness: Pass It On — protect yourself from scam artists

On: December 22, 2015

This article by Hickman Executive Director Pamela Leland was originally published in the Daily Local News on November 9, 2015. 

The lead story in the November issue of Consumer Reports magazine shared the stories of eight older adults who lost thousands of dollars to scam artists and fraudsters.

One woman lost $297,000 before a bank officer began to ask questions and alerted her children.

All seniors are vulnerable to financial fraud or scam artists. Victims are not limited to those who are less educated or less sophisticated. These are skilled hucksters who see older adults as vulnerable and target the elderly. It is estimated that as much $30 billion could be lost each year by seniors who are manipulated by these predators.

The extent of this problem has not gone unnoticed. The Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing in October to learn more about the issue. And the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created a public campaign called Pass It On.

The purpose of the Pass It On campaign is to educate the elderly about the types of fraud and impostor scams. The campaign encourages seniors who recognize the risk of scams to “pass on” the information to other seniors who may not have the same level of awareness.

The Pass It On campaign identifies six types of scams:

• Identity Theft has generated the most complaints to the FTC for more than a decade. Seniors are particularly vulnerable because others may be involved in handling personal accounts or business matters. Protect yourself by carefully screening any paid caregivers, keeping personal information (like Social Security numbers) in a secure location, shredding documents that contain personal information, watching for suspicious bills or health insurance explanation of benefits forms, and checking your credit report on an annual basis.

• Impostor Scams. You get a phone call or email that you have won a prize but need to forward some money to claim it. Or someone calls you on behalf of a relative in need, asking that money be wired to them. If you receive such a call, verify the information before giving anyone your credit card or sending cash.

• Charity Fraud is a very common scam and manipulates the name of actual charities to invoke a sense of familiarity. Callers pressure you to make a donation immediately. The easiest way to avoid this type of scam is to say no to any phone solicitations, instead asking that they send you a request via U.S. mail.

• Healthcare Scams encompass claims that someone needs a new insurance or benefit card in order to access various benefits, including so-called miracle drugs for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Before responding to such a claim, the FTC recommends that information be confirmed with a reliable source — in the case of Medicare, for instance, at 1-800-Medicare or www.Medicare.gov.

• Lottery Scams. Also called “You’ve Won” scams, these involve perpetrators offering a prize in exchange for credit card information or money wired to them. This is particularly seductive given our lottery culture. The best protection is to keep your money and ignore these calls and letters.

• “Paying Too Much” Scams involve unauthorized or unexpected charges appearing on a bill or receiving a bill for an unauthorized purchase. The recipient is confused because the invoice may look like another one they routinely receive or from a vendor with a similar name. You can protect yourself by keeping close track of services you receive and checking each bill closely.

The Pass It On Campaign provides numerous resources to individuals and organizations who would like to learn more. There are articles, video clips, activities and slide presentations. Check this information for your own benefit. You might also consider organizing a discussion at your church, synagogue or service club. Do your part to help reduce the risk to our elders!

Check out the following for more detailed information:

FTC’s Pass It On Campaign: www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0030-pass-it-on

National Center on Elder Abuse: ncea.aoa.gov/stop_abuse/index.aspx

Consumer Reports: ConsumerReports.org/elderscamsupdate

Promoting Senior Wellness is provided by The Hickman, a Quaker-affiliated licensed personal care home in West Chester. This month’s column was written by Pamela Leland, PhD, executive director.