Frauds and scammers are on the rise. The DOJ’s Big Bust Proves it.
Far too often, scammers in Missouri and across the US are getting the upper hand at the expense of seniors. Senior fraud in Missouri isn’t greatly different from other states. But the results are sometimes devastating. Aging adults and their families need to be prepared and stay aware. They’re not walking down your street wearing a dark hoodie, so how do you recognize them?
In February of this year, the Department of Justice brought criminal charges against over 200 individuals who mostly targeted the elderly. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that these individuals defrauded more than one million Americans out of more than five hundred million dollars.
Senior fraud in Missouri
As in other states, frauds and scammers in Missouri are on the prowl. We don’t have a breakdown on senior-related fraud as compared to the rest of the population. But there are statistics that generally compare Missouri with other states, with a few details related to seniors.
WalletHub.com shows Missouri to rank number twenty-seventh in the United states in identity theft and fraud. With respect to elder-abuse protections, Missouri ranks as twentieth. These rankings offer more detail, but the Show-Me state is generally listed as average in many categories.
More trusting, more resources
According to the DOJ, scams targeting senior citizens are increasing dramatically. An estimated $3 billion is stolen from aging citizens each year.
Why are seniors sometimes targeted so frequently? Several factors could play into the reasons why seniors are more vulnerable. Seniors are generally more trusting, and have a great deal more money saved than younger adults. When taken advantage of, they might feel a greater sense of embarrassment, and fail to report the incident.
Other reasons for vulnerability
Some have suggested that aging adults, with more time on their hands, open more junk mail, accept more phone calls, and engage more readily with salespeople. In prior years, those same individuals might have filtered out scammers, simply because they didn’t have the time to consider an offer.
Face-to-face interactions present a particular challenge
Personal interactions are more tricky when it comes to seniors being targeted for fraud.
UCLA Psychologist Shelly Taylor completed a revealing study. When compared with adults in their twenties, those over 55 did not process the cues of body language and facial expressions typically displayed by untrustworthy individuals. A smile, for example, that doesn’t reach the eyes, wasn’t detected as a potential problem by seniors, where younger adults felt the warning signals.
Her follow-up study showed that mental defenses appear to be less robust for seniors. They have less brain activity in the areas that process risk and subtle danger. She also cites an increasing aversion to negativity as being another possible factor.
Types of scams
The different types of scams are too many to list. But they do have a few things in common. They commonly come through email, phone calls and the US Postal Service. They typically play on urgency or good fortune. Here are just a few of the many examples:
Fake IRS agents. You might get a phone call or email alerting you to a tax bill you supposedly owe. This one is easy to recognize as false. The IRS does not contact people through email or phone call, but through snail mail.
Bogus Medicare agents. This telemarketing operation tells seniors they need to purchase an updated Medicare card. Pay no mind. No purchase is required. This is a scam.
False charities. Usually used after large scale disasters, scammers call from “charities,” supposedly looking for money to help hurricane, flood or earthquake victims.
We could make a much longer list, but here are just a few more examples:
- Romance scams
- Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries
- Fake prescription drugs
- Funeral or cemetery ripoffs
Spot the Scammer
Some of the best ways to recognize fraudulent activity is the way it plays on emotions and asks for payment. The story sounds real, but it’s not.
Big winner? We all know the adage; If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Frauds and scammers often lure people in through news of good fortune, like winning the lottery. The prize is big enough to heighten the target’s emotions while lowering their defenses. Some kind of payment or information is required related to “processing fees.”
Alarming news? Another method is to claim that a relative is in trouble. Your grandson, for example, is in jail or your granddaughter is stranded on vacation in a remote area. They need money to bail them out or otherwise provide desperately needed help.
Getting your money. In any case, urgent action is requested in the form of some kind of personal information, banking information or payment. Money is normally sent by wire, or loaded onto a gift card or a cash reload card. The money can’t be traced or retrieved.
Closing the door on senior fraud
Throw out junk mail and eliminate calls from strangers. Because seniors make many more purchases over the phone, they are often targeted with telemarketing attempts. To reduce those calls, seniors can join the No-Call Team.
Don’t just look to the BBB. The Better Business Bureau is helpful in many situations, but fraudulent organizations rarely show up in their records.
Never act quickly. Scammers typically use urgency to get people to do something they might otherwise say no to.
Ask lots of questions. Time and questions are your friend. One way to diffuse a scammer is to ask several probing questions. Take control of the conversation and avoid making an immediate decision.
Get input from others. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Trusted neighbors or family members can be a great source of objective insight. They also might have been approached and may be able to confirm your suspicions.
Report fraud. Scammers need to be reported to the Federal Trade Commission. If you have concerns, you should refer to the FTC online complaint page or call 800-ftc-help (800-382-4357)
Additional resources. The state of Missouri offers many consumer protections for seniors. Check out the many resources on this web page.
For adult children of aging parents. Keep lines of communication open with mom and dad. Be observant. Keep your eyes peeled for suspicious activity, phone calls, email or junk mail. Keep tabs on the way they’re spending money.
Are you and your family well prepared?
At Quinn Estate & Elder Law, several of our clients have reported that their parents fell for some of these schemes. The frequency, degree and impact of these fraud schemes is disturbing. Although senior fraud in Missouri is common, you can be aware and prepared for it.
Another critical form of preparation is estate planning, even if you have not yet retired. What would happen in the event of an untimely death? Would your family have to deal with the painful process of probate? And how will you prevent your assets from being spent down in long term care expenses?
Have questions about your estate plan? Call the experts at Quinn Estate & Elder Law 636-428-3344