In an analysis by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported last year, since 2013 financial institutions has reported to the federal government over 180,000 suspicious activities targeting older adults, involving a total of more than $6 billion in attempted and actual losses including financial exploitation of older adults by scammers.
At the Office of the State’s Attorney for Anne Arundel County, we’re aware of the risk and the devastating financial loss seniors can face from their caregivers, loved ones and online scammers. Our community outreach program, Education through Prevention, provides a number of quality-of-life topics including senior fraud prevention, which we present to groups throughout the year. My deputy state’s attorney, Brian Marsh, focuses on giving seniors the tools to identify and avoid financial exploitation. In recognition of Protect Week, which raises awareness and helps identify financial scams that target the elderly, I’d like to provide a few tips on preventing online crimes.
Reputable Charity or Ruse?
Throughout the year, many Americans want to give to charities, but it’s difficult to be sure you’re giving to a reputable organization. Instead of responding to solicitations for donations, it’s better to reach out yourself to a charity you trust. Verify that an organization is a nonprofit by going to Charity Checker, GIVE.org or CharityWatch.org. If it is not, do not send money or provide any personal information.
Online Fraudsters: Phishing Scams, Fake Emails, Calls & Text Messages
- What is phishing? It is a method of trying to gather personal information using deceptive phone calls, emails and websites, usually by someone imitating a phone number or logo of a real company or government office.
- Phishing scammers use email and text messages containing information from trusted organizations like your bank or credit card company. They ask you for information like your PIN or account number and then access your account. Some scammers create believable emails telling you that they need your information to continue serving you and trick you into entering personal information. Most times, the email or text message includes a link or attachment to click, which allows them to access your personal information. The scammer may already have your name, email and account number — don’t give them more information so they can complete the scam!
- The IRS isn’t calling you or emailing you! You won’t be arrested if you fail to respond to a threat that you must act. There are no warrants for your arrest that you would ever get by phone, email or text! If the IRS needs information or wants to audit you, you will get an official letter in the mail. When in doubt, bring any such correspondence or messaging to the attention of your accountant or a trusted financial advisor.
- When looking at the sender’s email address, ask yourself, “Does it originate from a reliable source?” Often, the email address is strange with numbers and letters. Don’t open attachments and consider deleting the email immediately. You can always call your bank or credit card directly to check if there is an issue. Protect your phone and computer by using security software and be sure to update it regularly. The updates often contain the latest defenses against scammers. Never give out credit card information over the phone unless it is you initiating a purchase yourself.
- Be sure that all of your devices, and your Wifi, are password protected and NEVER give out your password to anyone.
- An effective tool to protect your home computer and internet access is by purchasing an internet firewall, which is a defense system to prevent cyber criminals from accessing your computer or phone while you are at home.
- Report any phishing attacks to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Reduce Identity Theft
- Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud. This includes opening credit cards or bank accounts in your name or to obtain identification that’s needed to impersonate you.
- To prevent identity theft, don’t carry around all of your personal information items such as your social security card, checkbooks, or all of your credit cards. Keep those items safe at home and only bring out items when you need them. Take a photograph or make a copy of the front and back of your cards for easy reference if you need to call to report a card missing or compromised. Never give out personal information over the phone, always shred sensitive documents and review billing statements to make sure you’ve been billed correctly.
- Be sure to check your credit report annually from the three major credit card bureaus. You can receive a free report by going to www.annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.
- Learn more about protecting your identity at gtc.gov/idtheft.
I hope these tips are helpful in frustrating would-be scammers. If you would like the Office of the State’s Attorney to host a presentation on senior fraud prevention, or our other topics to your community group, please click here to learn more and to complete the speaker request form.