Grandma, I Need Your Help!

By Laura Deremo

When Beverly answered the phone one afternoon, she heard a voice she believed was her granddaughter. “Grandma, it’s me, Katie,” said the distressed girl. “I’m in the Dominican Republic and I’ve been arrested. I don’t want mom and dad to find out. Grandma, I need your help! Can you wire me some money?” A “police officer” then got on the phone and talked to Beverly, telling her that Katie would be detained unless money was immediately wired to the police station. Beverly did not call her daughter, Katie’s mom, to verify whether Katie was actually in the Dominican Republic. Instead, Beverly went to her bank to make arrangements to wire the money. Luckily, a bank employee became suspicious and called Beverly’s daughter.

We are all increasingly vulnerable to fraud and other forms of financial exploitation. Fraud isn’t limited to race, ethnic background, gender, age, education, or income, although some scams seem to target certain groups. Older adults may be targeted more frequently because the caller assumes they may live alone, have money saved, or are less likely to report fraudulent activity. It’s estimated that one in five seniors has been taken advantage of financially and the number is growing. Here are ways to protect yourself:

  • To help stop unwanted calls, register all of your phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. While it may not stop all calls, it should stop most of them. Once registered, a number remains on the registry until it’s canceled or until the number is disconnected. If you continue to receive calls after registering, they may be from scammers ignoring the law. Hang up immediately, and report the call.
  • To help stop pre-recorded or “robo” calls (e.g., claiming to be the IRS) hang up immediately and report the call. Do not press a key to speak to a live operator, or to take your number off the list, as it may lead to more robo-calls.
  • To help stop unwanted mail, register your address with the Do Not Mail Registry. If you are a caregiver for another individual, or have a recently deceased relative, you can stop also unwanted mail addressed to their name.

After you’ve registered with these services, you may still find yourself the target of a scam. Scammers use exaggerated, even fake, prizes, products or services as bait. Some may call you, but others will use mail, texts, or ads or even show up at your door. Here are the some common scams and what you need to know about them.

  • Telemarketing scams: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has revised rules so that it is now against the law for the caller to ask you to pay with a cash-to-cash money transfer (like Western Union or MoneyGram) or using a prepaid debit card.
  • Mail fraud: If the postage is marked at a bulk rate, chances are you didn’t really win that large amount of money, so don’t provide personal information to claim your prize. It is also illegal for a company to say that a purchase will increase your odds.
  • Door-to-door scam: Never open your door to a stranger or invite him or her into your home. Call your utility company for verification of service or meter inspection.
  • Home improvement fraud: Use local and well-established contractors who are bonded and insured, and always ask for references. Get bids from several companies, and be cautious of bids that seem to be too good to be true. Never pay in full before a job is completed.

Other ways to protect yourself: 

  • Sign up for Direct Deposit for benefit and pension checks.
  • Monitor all credit card and bank statements monthly to identify recurring charges to which you may not have agreed (e.g. memberships, subscriptions, etc.). Call the phone number listed with the charge to terminate the agreement and request a credit.
  • Hire a Daily Money Manager (DMM) to oversee your day-to-day financial transactions. A DMM can monitor your accounts for unusual activity and help protect against fraud.
  • Keep up-to-date on the latest scams by checking the FTC Consumer Information website.
  • Report anything you suspect is a scam to the entity named (e.g. IRS) as well as to the FTC. Also contact local law enforcement if someone comes to your door and you suspect it’s a scam.
  • If you believe a family member, friend or neighbor has been the victim of financial exploitation, you should also contact your local Adult Protective Services (APS) unit.

Resources available for you to use:

  • Do Not Call: www.donotcall.gov
  • Robo Calls: www.nomorobo.com
  • Do Not Mail: www.dmachoice.org
  • FTC: 877.FTC.HELP or visit ftc.gov/complaint
  • APS: 217.523.4431 or visit www.napsa-now.org
  • IRS SCAMS: Visit Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration website at: https://www. treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml
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