Scams, Schemes & Swindles

See Elizabeth discuss scams in a brief segment on WZZM:

Fraud is a serious threat to the well being of older adults.  According to The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse 2015, seniors lose about $30 billion a year to financial exploitation and criminal fraud. 

All ages are vulnerable to scams and fraud, but seniors are frequently targeted because they generally have access to cash in the form of retirement savings.  They are also more likely to have a landline and be home during the day making them more accessible.  Older adults are sometimes more trusting or polite than other age groups, which can make them more likely to stay on the phone and hear the con artist’s pitch. 

Fraud and scams take many forms and come into the home through the Internet, telephone and mail.  A common tactic is a “phishing” e-mail that looks like it is from a bank or legitimate business, complete with the logo.  It states there is a problem or question about an order and asks the recipient to click on a link or open an attachment to get more information, which opens up the victim’s computer to the scammer.  The telephone is still a common device used for scams and criminals are now able to “spoof” Caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from an organization you know, such as a utility company or government agency.  Requests from questionable charities and notices of lottery winnings are common and can come by phone or mail. 

There are a number of scams currently going around in West Michigan.  They include:

  • Phone calls or e-mails from the “IRS” and demanding payment.  Be aware the IRS will not call you for any reason and does not send payment notices by e-mail. 
  • Phone call or e-mail from someone claiming to be a family member or friend in trouble.  These phone calls are frequently late at night and the caller says they are your grandchild and need money for medical bills or to get out of jail and beg you not to tell their parents.  They are very convincing actors and sometimes even know your grandchild’s name. 
  • Imposters demanding payment for Consumers Energy bill immediately.  The scammers are spoofing the Caller ID in many parts of the state. 
  • Phone sales of fake or overpriced Personal Emergency Response Systems.  This is a high-pressure sales call that may begin by saying, “Your family wants you to have this” leaving many to believe that their family member ordered it.  It is best to purchase these systems locally from a reputable supplier. 
  • False computer message of a virus and phone calls from Microsoft imposter that software license needs to be renewed.  These hackers are trying to gain access to your computer and will then steal information or lock it up and hold it ransom until you pay them. 
  • Solicitations for questionable charities.  Many claim to be local police or fire fighting organizations but give only a tiny percentage to the cause.  Also, fraudulent charities pop up every time there is a natural disaster and try to capitalize on the sympathies of consumers. 
  • Delivery of a bogus gift intended to steal credit card information.  Someone may ring the doorbell with a large gift basket or package and say it was sent as a gift, but since it contains alcohol they need to see an ID or ask you to pay a small handling fee.  They give you the gift basket then use the credit card information fraudulently. 

Con artists use certain tactics to get money from their victims, which can serve as warning signs.  They appeal to emotions, because if someone is fearful or excited they don’t think logically and their judgment is impaired.  Scammers will try to frighten you with threats or a sense of urgency that you have to pay right now.  Or they try to get you excited about a chance to win money or save money.  Frequently, they ask for payment by pre-paid credit card, green dot card, gift card or wire transfer, because these funds are harder to trace and cannot be stopped once sent.  Being aware of these warning signs can help us spot a scam in the making. 

 There are other ways we can protect ourselves:

  • Do not click on e-mail links or open attachments unless you are certain of their authenticity
  • Screen phone calls and listen to the message before picking up the phone
  • Take your time and think carefully before giving payment to anyone.  Talk it over with someone you trust if you’re not sure
  • Research charities at www.charitynavigator .com or the Michigan Attorney General’s website
  • Do not give out your social security number, Medicare number or any account numbers over the phone
  • Monitor all statements and bills closely
  • If you are a victim or fraud or identity theft, put a Fraud Alert on your credit report by contacting one of the major credit bureaus
  • Stay up to date on current scams

See our Resources page for a list of scam alerts, agencies where you can report scams, how to research charitable organizations and more.  

When you learn about a scam tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your family and spread the word.  The more we talk about scams, the harder it will be for the criminals to carry them out. 

Elizabeth Zeldes, CPA

Senior Advisory Services PLLC

October 2016