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  • Cameron Oglesby

Is that phone call coming from a scammer?

Back in the early 1950s, someone asked William Francis Sutton, Jr., AKA “Willie the Actor” and a felon on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, why he kept robbing banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he answered. Today, the money’s in a different place: the households of older Americans.

Households headed by 65- to 74-year-olds enjoyed an average net worth of $1,217,700 according to the latest Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances. That makes them a target rich environment for scammers using telephones, databases, and emails.

All a scammer has to do to locate targets is call or email a perfectly legitimate mailing list broker. Then, for a few hundred dollars, the fraudster can buy lists of people in specified age groups and net worth ranges, complete with their phone numbers and email addresses.

Here are some of the most popular scams and how to spot them:

· The nonexistent online store – Anyone can set up a website for a fake store, complete with photos, descriptions and, of course, prices for merchandise that will never be delivered to you (mainly because it never existed). When you go to the shopping cart to order, you find out that they don’t take credit or debit cards – just billpay checks, money orders, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or Zelle payments. That’s a warning sign. Under federal law, with a credit card you have the right to dispute the charge with your bank, credit card company, or other financial institution that issued it and have them cancel it. With those other forms of payment, the money’s gone forever.

· You’ve won the lottery you never entered – But unfortunately, according to the scammer, you need to pay taxes before we can send your payment. Just follow the instructions we’ll send you. And of course, the instructions will tell you to pay by nonrefundable methods that don’t involve credit cards, for the reasons above.

· The phony IRS agent calling to say that you owe back taxes, and that if you don’t pay right away (by cash or money order, of course), you’ll be subject to fines and possibly imprisonment. The IRS never phones about unpaid taxes. They sent written notices, by physical mail. Those are just as scary, but at least they're on the up-and-up.

· The utility shutoff threat – A purported utility employee may call threatening to cut off your power or gas or water or landline service unless you pay them immediately. That’s not how utilities work. They generally let your account carry arrears for a while, then start sending dunning letters, then turn the debt over to collection agencies; nothing immediate about it.

· The software problem you didn’t know you had – You get an email that’s apparently from your web host or email host, or a software developer, or your computer’s manufacturer. It says there’s some kind of problem, or there’s a free update or upgrade you need, or you need to recertify your account by clicking a link. There’s no charge for the “service,” but clicking the link gives the sender access to everything on your computer – your emails, your data, your online bank and credit accounts, and all your access and login user names and passwords.

· The malware problem you didn’t know you had – You get an email warning you of malware on your computer. At its most benign, this tactic may be a sneaky way to trick you into buying some actual security software you probably don’t need. But at its worst, it can trick you into clicking a link to pay the sender money (using your bank account information for an ACH transfer) or to give them access to every bit of data on your computer (see above).

And here are some ways to protect yourself:

· Terminate the call as soon as a caller asks you for money or information.

· Don’t just listen. Ask questions (and listen for fishy answers).

· Don’t let yourself be rushed into acting immediately. A legitimate business will give you time to think it over.

· Be suspicious of any phone call or email asks for some form of payment other than credit or debit cards. For online payments, PayPal has a Resolution center where you can dispute the payment and get a refund. Zelle doesn’t.

· For emails, mouse over the From address for the sender’s URL and click on the little arrow. If the domain name differs from the supposed sender’s, trash the email.

· For emailed links for payment, “certification,” etc., mouse over the link to see the URL.

· Get the caller’s (or emailer’s) name, then phone or email the business or organization. Ask for the caller by name. If nobody there has heard of him or her, that’s a good tipoff.

· Call your bank, credit card company, or financial institution’s Frauds department.

· Arm yourself with information from the AARP’s Con Artist’s Playbook.

· Call the US Department of Justice’s free National Elder Fraud Hotline (833-372-8311), the AARP’s fraud helpline (877-908-3360), or go to IdentityTheft.gov.

Of course, there are other, honest, ways to dissipate your hard-earned assets. Some senior care companies, with the best of intentions, bundle different services into packages. This is fine of you need every single service in the package, but if not, you lose both money and independence over time.

Others may lack a way of defining which services you need and which you don’t, with the same result.

That’s not the way we at Senior Insights work. Before we recommend any care, we conduct a thorough three-part assessment of your physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial needs with you and your family. Only then do we create a custom-designed holistic coordinated senior care management plan built around your individual priorities, values, preferences, schedule, hobbies and interest, and trade-offs you’re willing to make. And rather than keep that plan static, our monthly registered nurse visits include mini-needs assessments, to make sure your care matches your needs as they change over time.

Please contact us to lean more about senior care management planning that saves the two costs of unnecessary over-care: the monetary cost and the cost to independence.

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