In light of the recent devastating floods throughout the Midwest, government agencies and other senior advocates are warning the elderly to be on the lookout for scam artists and others who profit off of the misery of others. When the floodwaters recede, authorities expect the predators to come out in droves. If you are a senior, or you have a senior loved one, you must be vigilant about checking identities and references of anyone claiming to offer assistance or offering to do repairs to your home or property.
Sadly, after a natural disaster such as the recent floods, home-repair swindlers and crooks posing as representatives of charities will jump at the opportunity to prey on the flood victims. The reality is that for a con artist, disasters present a golden opportunity that offers endless potential victims – and the elderly are usually their first targets.
To protect yourself, make it a rule to not answer the telephone if you don’t recognize the number. Instead, let it go to voicemail and then conduct your own investigation into the person or company that is ostensibly offering to help. If you do speak to anyone, do not give out any personal information such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords or other identity-revealing information. A legitimate company or charity does not need that information over the telephone, if at all.
The National Council on Aging says financial scams targeting seniors are so prevalent that they’re considered “the crime of the 21st century.” Those older than 65 are more likely to have lost money due to a financial scam than someone in their 40s, according to research by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation. In 2017, the Consumer Sentinel Network took in nearly 2.7 million reports in 30 different categories of fraud. That number probably does not reflect the true scope of the problem because victims often are embarrassed and ashamed and don’t want to report the crime. The top three fraud attempts were debt collection (608,535, 22.7 percent), identity theft (371,061, 13.8 percent) and imposter scams (347,829, 13 percent).
The National Council on Aging offers these eight tips to protect you from fraud:
- Be aware that you are at risk from strangers — and from those closest to you. The National Council on Aging says 90 percent of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.
- Don’t isolate yourself — stay involved!
- Always tell solicitors: “I never buy from (or give to) anyone who calls or visits me unannounced. Send me something in writing.”
- Shred all receipts with your credit card number.
- Sign up for the “Do Not Call” list and take yourself off multiple mailing lists. Go to gov to stop telemarketers from contacting you. You also can regularly monitor your credit ratings and check on any unusual or incorrect information at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only place authorized by federal law to provide you with your free credit report once a year.
- Use direct deposit for benefit checks to prevent checks from being stolen from the mailbox.
- Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Review your Medicare statements to be sure you have in fact received the services billed, and report suspicious activities to 1-800-MEDICARE.
- Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers and thoroughly do your research.
If you think you’ve been scammed, you should immediately:
- Call your bank and/or credit card company.
- Cancel any debit or credit cards linked to the stolen account.
- Reset your personal identification number(s).
If you need help, call the Illinois Department of Aging. The statewide, 24-hour Adult Protective Services Hotline is 1-866-800-1409, 1-888-206-1327 (TTY). If you think you’ve been the victim of fraud call the Illinois Attorney General’s Senior Citizens Consumer Fraud Hotline: 1-800-243-5377 or 1-800-964-3013 (TTY).
If you know or care for an older adult, here are some additional warning signs that may indicate they are the victim of financial abuse:
- There are unusual recent changes in the person’s accounts, including atypical withdrawals, new person(s) added, or sudden use of a senior’s ATM or credit card.
- The senior suddenly appears confused, unkempt and afraid.
- Utility, rent, mortgage, medical, or other essential bills are unpaid despite adequate income.
- A caregiver will not allow others access to the senior.
- There are piled up sweepstakes mailings, magazine subscriptions, or “free gifts,” which means they may be on “sucker lists.”
Contact Illinois Elder Law Attorneys
Please join us for an upcoming FREE estate planning seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about elder law, contact the experienced Illinois elder law attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.