The Discerning Investor by Julie Jason

Are Seniors in Your Family Being Scammed?

It seems that seniors will never get a break. Fraudsters continue to prey on them with all sorts of scams. If you have a senior in the family, there’s no better time than now to talk about just a few of the tricks that most people -- of any age -- may not be aware of.

Take this example: You get a phone call from the IRS. You check your caller ID to make certain it’s not a scammer, and sure enough, the caller ID confirms that the Washington, D.C., number that is calling is the IRS. You take the call. The “IRS” warns you that you will be sued and/or arrested if you don’t pay your “tax bill” (usually by wire transfer or a prepaid debit or gift card).

Or, you receive a letter congratulating you on winning $1 million. To claim the jackpot, you’ll need to send in a small processing fee.

The Justice Department investigates such frauds. The first example is possible with technology that tricks your caller ID with a fake phone number. The second example is a longtime scam; it just won’t go away.

But fraudsters are being caught. For example, earlier this week, four people were charged with “defrauding thousands of elderly and vulnerable victims.” The fraud? Mailings of prize notices that requested money be sent in order to “win” a bigger payment. The charge? “[C]onspiracy to commit mail fraud and multiple mail fraud and wire fraud counts for running a fraudulent mass-mailing scheme that tricked thousands of consumers into paying fees for falsely promised prizes.” The National Council on Aging has put prize scams among the top 10 financial scams targeting seniors.

What’s the likelihood of being approached with a potential scam? You tell me. Have you received spam emails? A safe guess is “Yes, indeed.”

What you need to know is this: Federal authorities are very much aware of the threats, and they are pursuing ways to inform seniors of the dangers. According to a Justice Department Agency Priority Goal Action Plan from July of this year, every U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) will be conducting elder fraud outreach. The goal is to provide a “channel through which comprehensive elder fraud prevention and disruption messaging can flow to local communities.”

What can you do now? Be alert to potential scams. A good start is the Federal Trade Commission’s “10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud” at tinyurl.com/y4ogmptd. Also, the National Council on Aging has “8 Tips for How Seniors Can Protect Themselves From Money Scams” at tinyurl.com/ycmk7rud.

You can stay informed about scams by receiving alerts from the Federal Trade Commission via email. Go to ftc.gov/scams to sign up. And if you are a victim of a scam, you can report it at ftc.gov/complaint.

In March, the Justice Department launched the National Elder Fraud Hotline to report potential scams. The number is: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). According to the department, “Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud, and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses.” The hotline is staffed seven days a week, from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. EDT. Don’t hesitate to report.

As Attorney General William Barr said in his remarks at the White House in June, “Studies show that older Americans are sometimes embarrassed to report fraud, but they should not be. The sooner fraud is reported, the better the chances of catching the perpetrator and recovering the victim’s money.”

Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant Investment Advisers Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut) and award-winning author, welcomes your questions/comments (readers@juliejason.com). Please visit www.juliejason.com.

DISTRIBUTED BY ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION