“The grandparent scam”

by Mark Berg

It begins with a phone call. A young voice on the other end of the line says, “Grandma (or grandpa), this is (name of your grandchild). My voice sounds different because I’ve been crying. I’m in trouble and I don’t want to call my parents. They’d be furious. I’ve been in a car accident (or stuck in jail, or detained in a foreign country), and I need money right now.”

Turns out, it’s a scam; it’s not your grandchild calling, and she/he is not in trouble. This is just one of many scams being perpetrated on seniors.

A recent report, Fighting Fraud: U.S. Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting Our Nation’s Seniors, summarizes the Committee’s investigation into this and other scams. Between January 1 and December 31, 2015, the Committee’s Fraud Hotline received 1,108 complaints from residents in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The top ten scams described in the report accounted for more than 90 percent of the complaints.

About a third of the complaints were about the IRS Impersonation Scam, which the IRS called “the largest, most pervasive impersonation scam in the history of the IRS.” Nearly 900,000

Americans have been targeted by scammers impersonating IRS officials, with 30 to 50 people a week reporting that they lost money to the scam; more than 5,000 Americans have lost a total of at least $26 million.

In second place is the Sweepstakes Scams. Callers tell potential victims that they have won or have been entered to win a prize, but it requires the victims to pay a fee to either collect their supposed winnings or improve their chances of winning the prize. At its peak, law enforcement officials estimated that one sophisticated con operation alone made approximately 30,000 phone calls to the United States per day and stole $300 million per year from tens of thousands of seniors.

The third category of complaints is Robocalls and Unwanted Phone Calls. Twelve years after the national Do-Not-Call registry was implemented, we are still being disturbed by telemarketers and scammers. They use Robodialers to distribute pre-recorded messages or to connect the person who answers the call with a live person who poses as a representative of a bank, credit card company, creditor, or government agency to convince the victim to reveal account numbers, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, passwords, and other identifying information.

Fourth is the Computer Scam. Con artists convince victims to give them remote access to their computers, personal information, and credit card and bank account numbers so that victims can be “billed” for fraudulent services to fix a virus or poor computer performance. In a related scam, victims see a pop-up window on their computer instructing them to contact a tech-support agent. Microsoft – which receives complaints of computer-based fraud – estimated that 3.3 million Americans are victims of technical support scams annually, losing $1.5 billion per year. Unlike other victim-assisted frauds, in which scammers are successful in just one out of a hundred-plus attempts, it appears that computer-based scams have a very high success rate.

Identity theft, the grandparent scam above, elder financial abuse, the government grant scam, a romance scam, the home improvement scam round out the list.

The Senate Committee has a free fraud hotline: 855-503-9470 to help increase reporting and awareness of consumer fraud.

Mark Berg is a member of the Pennsylvania Council on Aging, and Chairman of the Adams County Office for Aging’s Citizens Advisory Council. His email address is MABerg175@comcast.net.

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