Showing posts with label fraud affecting senior citizens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fraud affecting senior citizens. Show all posts

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Beware Coronoavirus Scams - Fraud is Increasing!

Due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, which has caused businesses to close and stock prices to fall, millions of people are in a tough financial situation.  Nearly 40 million people are unemployed and many of them have had difficulty claiming their benefits.  Some people are becoming desperate and, as a result, more and more of them are falling for ruthless scams, often costing them what little money they have left. While it is easy to become a victim to scammers, it is more important than ever that we all continue to be vigilant and on the lookout for any suspicious requests for money.

Examples of Covid-19 Scams

While all the "old" scams continue to operate, criminals are now exploiting people in new ways.  Here are some examples:

Phony Social Security fees:  In March, 2020, people began getting letters which appeared to be from the Social Security Administration.  These letters told the recipients that they had to call a special phone number to protect their benefits from being suspended.  When they called, the people were then given instructions to pay a fee by using a gift card or an instant wire transfer.  NO government agency would ever ask you to pay a fee in order to get your benefits.  Nor would they ask you to make a payment to them by using gift cards or instant wire transfers.

Illegal Fees and Taxes on Prize Money:  Another scam is the enthusiastic promise from a caller that you have won a cash prize from some contest!  According to the caller, the only thing you need to do is pay a fee or pre-pay the taxes, before you get the prize.  Don't do it!  If you actually win a sweepstakes prize, it is illegal for them to ask you to pay a fee before receiving your prize. If the prize is large enough, a legitimate company may send tax forms for you to complete, and they may withhold a portion of the prize money to cover the taxes.  However, they are NOT allowed to require you to prepay the taxes by sending them money before they pay you the prize.  That is a scam.  If you send them money in advance, it is highly likely you will not receive the prize!

Fake ads for non-existent products:  Many people have seen ads or received promotional emails that advertise products which are currently hard to find, including facemasks, disposable gloves, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer.  People have placed orders for these items and given the advertiser their credit card information, only to never receive the ordered product.  Place your orders with legitimate companies, only.  Check out companies online or with the Better Business Bureau, especially if you have never heard of them before, or if you are unsure if they are legitimate.  In addition, even if you are purchasing from a reputable company, make sure you are not overpaying for the items.  Some sellers are asking buyers to pay as much as ten times more than what the items sold for before the the pandemic.

Phony emails:  If you receive an unexpected email from a friend, relative or co-worker asking you to send money or gift cards to them or anyone else, do not do it unless you contact that person separately and confirm the request.  Many people and companies are discovering that their email accounts have been cloned or compromised, and scammers are using a fake account to request money and gift cards from your contacts.  This scam even happened to the minister of our church, who had to send out a disclaimer to the members of our church to let everyone know he is not asking anyone to send him money or gift cards!

Useless Covid-19 tests, cures, and "vaccines":  In a number of locations, crooks have set up phony Covid-19 testing sites where people have been charged as much as $240 for fake tests.  Other scammers have offered cures or vaccines which are ineffective, unproven, or dangerous.  Check with your healthcare provider before being tested for Covid-19, or before you try any cure or vaccine.  Currently, there are no approved cures or vaccines available to the public, except those being tried on hospitalized patients, or as part of a medical trial.

 The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to avoid contact with people who do not live in your home.  When you are around other people, wear a mask in public and expect others to do the same. Limit the amount of time you spend in businesses and other indoor locations where the virus could be lingering in the air.  The key is to keep your potential "viral load" as small as possible.

Remember the General Rules to Protect Yourself from Scams

Criminals are constantly coming up with new ways to get your money and/or your credit card information.  Before you become a victim, remember some basic rules.

No government agency will ever randomly call you and ask for gift cards or credit card information to pay a bill or fee.  The federal government and most state and local agencies will always contact people first by U.S. mail.  They will rarely contact you in any other way, unless you first call them and ask for a callback.

If a stranger calls and asks for money, hang up.  If they represent a charity which interests you, ask them to mail you information, so you can read it at your leisure.  Then, before making a donation to a new charity, check them out through the Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator.  If you decide to support them, go to their website directly to make the donation.  Do not give out your credit card information over the phone.  Do not purchase gift cards and read the numbers on the back of the cards to anyone over the phone.  Do not make instant wire transfers to strangers.  Take your time and check things out.

Do not fall for fake news stories about "amazing cures" and treatments for Covid-19 or any other serious illness.  Check with your personal physician before trying something you have seen advertised online.  Even some televangelists have gotten in trouble for promoting products which were either useless or dangerous.  Do not give anyone your hard-earned money for something which will not help you, and might even harm you.

With so many people struggling financially at the moment, many of them are desperate to believe anything they read online or are told over the phone.  Stay vigilant and skeptical.  Take your time before making any financial decisions.  Be very, very reluctant to give out credit card information or let go of your money.  You earned it.  Make sure you keep it.  The longer this disease has us in its grips, the more we will all need to be cautious with our money.

If your retirement planning needs to be updated because of changes to your financial situation as a result of Covid-19 or unemployment, you may want to get the handy workbook, "Retirement by Design."   It will help you get back on track. (Ad) 

To learn more about common medical problems as we age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, where to retire and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

If Grandkids Call for Money - Grandparent Scam

Would your grandkids call you
if they were in trouble?
Last weekend a close friend of mine received a terrifying call from her grandson, who lives in another state.  He had rear-ended a car containing tourists from another country, and he had a sealed bottle of vodka in the car when it happened.  He was in a heap of trouble.

My friend asked her grandson details about what had happened.  He told her he had hired an attorney, and he was at the courthouse with his lawyer trying to get everything sorted out.  My friend asked to speak to her grandson's attorney.  The attorney explained what was happening, the charges he was facing, and what the judge felt her grandson should do in order to reimburse the people he had rear-ended for their out-of-pocket expenses.

After talking with the attorney, my friend got back on the phone with her grandson, and asked what she could do to help.  He told her he needed $4000 to be sent to the tourists, to cover their expenses.  Then the charges would be dropped.  He had not been drinking the vodka, and he had passed the sobriety test.  He just needed to cover the expenses.  He was very upset and embarrassed.  He begged her not to tell other members of the family, including his parents.  After discussing the situation more with the lawyer and the prosecuting attorney, to be certain that the charges would be dropped, my friend discussed the situation with her husband.  Then, she and her husband went to her bank, removed $4000, took it to a Western Union office, and had the money wired to the "victims," who were now back home in the Dominican Republic.

The entire incident was part of the well-known GRANDPARENT SCAM!

My friend lost her entire $4000, despite the fact that both she and her husband had read about money transfer scams in our local newspaper.  She simply didn't connect the financial scams reported in the newspaper with the situation she was facing with her grandson.

Once she realized she had been cheated, she reported the case to the local Sheriff's Department and the FBI, but there was nothing they could do to help her.  All the calls originated from outside the US.  The money was wired to another country.  Her grandson had not been involved in an accident; he doesn't even own a car. He was happy and busy doing other things on the morning when all this was transpiring.  He had even called that morning and proudly left them a message about a new job.  However, they were so busy with the money transfer, they didn't listen to the messages on their answering machine.

How to Recognize the Grandparent Scam

When my friend thinks back on the call, she realizes that her supposed "grandson" simply said "grandma" when she picked up the phone.  Then she responded by saying his first name.  He was upset during the call, so it was difficult to recognize his voice.  Besides, she really didn't talk with him on the phone all that often, so she wasn't sure she would have known whether or not it was him, even if he hadn't been pretending to be upset and stressed.

Despite his request to not tell anyone, my friend and her husband should have called other relatives to check on their grandson.  Even if their grandson really was in trouble, taking an extra hour to help him would not have made a difference ... and would have given them an opportunity to check everything out.  These people work in teams, often with several different people available to talk to you on the phone.  You need to get completely independent confirmation before trusting anyone who calls you.

We have already told our own children and grandchildren to not get their feelings hurt if they ever call us for money and we tell them we will call them back later ... after we have had a chance to make a few confirming phone calls.  They understand.

The Grandparents Scam Can Happen to Anyone

In case you think these types of scams couldn't happen to you, my friend is a retired teacher; her husband, who was involved in the decision and helped her wire the money, is a retired parole officer who worked for the Sheriff's Department.  They are both intelligent, very conservative and suspicious of strange phone calls.  Neither one suffers from dementia or any other health condition that would have made them easy marks.  They have a grown daughter who is a lawyer, but they didn't consult her before sending the money.  They didn't try calling their grandson on his cell phone.  They didn't try calling other family members to see if they had heard from their grandson.  Despite all their natural reservations, they fell for this scam hook, line and sinker.

My friend knows that I am making a blog post about this financial scam. We took a long walk at the beach this morning as she relayed the story to me.  She was understandably upset with herself, and angry at the loss of her money.  She also felt powerless to do anything about it.  However, she was adamant that she wanted to do whatever she could to keep it from happening to anyone else, so she asked me to post a fraud alert.  Feel free to forward this post to your friends, in the hope that we can prevent others from becoming victims of money transfer scams and other retirement scams, as well.

Although she isn't sure why they contacted her, the authorities told her that the scammers often target residents of over 55 communities, such as the one where we live.  They also scour Facebook for older people who show photos or mention teenage grandchildren on the site.  These money transfer scams are well-planned, and organized by groups of swindlers who do a lot of research to make their phone calls seem real.

Don't let the grandparent's scam happen to you!

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