According to the National Council on Aging, phone scams targeting elderly victims have become so prevalent that they are now considered the “crime of the 21st Century.” The scams are often difficult to trace and are considered a “low risk” crime by fraudsters. Beth Finkel, Director of the AARP in New York, remarked, “It’s estimated that fraud cost older Americans $2.9 billion in 2011 alone, and as society ages and people live longer this problem threatens to get worse.”
To combat these phone scams, which usually spike during the summer months, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman warned potential elderly victims to beware of five common fraudulent phone calls. The first such scam involves a person who calls an elderly person and claims to be the victim’s grandson or granddaughter. In some cases, the scammer will have obtained the grandchild’s name from social media sites. In other cases, the scammer will trick the elderly person into giving the grandchild’s name by saving, “Hey! It’s me. You know who this is?” Once the elderly victim believes that the caller is his or her grandchild, the scammer will then state that he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. The caller may say that he or she is going to be evicted or needs money to be bailed out of jail.
Another scam involves a caller who claims to be an officer of the court. The caller will tell the elderly person that there is a warrant out for their arrest for failing to report to jury duty. To avoid arrest, the scammer will tell the elderly victim to send money via services such as Western Union. In one case, investigators were able to trace such a call to a Georgia prison.
Fraudsters may also claim to be with a governmental agency that assists people in claiming lottery winnings. The caller will state that in order to claim the prize, the “winner” must send money to cover taxes and administrative fees. In some instances, the caller will ask the elderly person for personal banking information in order to deposit the “winnings” into his or her account. The scammer will then use this information to make fraudulent purchases or withdrawals.
Scammers will often use electronic devices that will “spoof” their caller-ID information. For instance, their calls may come up on caller-ID as “Internal Revenue Service.” In such cases, scammers will claim to be with the IRS. They will tell the elderly victim that he or she owes back taxes and must pay immediately to avoid being arrested. In a similar type of scam, callers will claim to be with a local utility company. The caller will state that the elderly person is behind on his or her utility bill and must send money immediately to avoid a service disruption.
Schneiderman advised senior citizens to hang up the phone immediately if they receive fraudulent calls.