As you may recall, a couple of years ago I wrote a blog entitled, “Senior Scams, A New Low” which detailed how low-life individuals prey on seniors for their own financial gain. Over the past few months, our world has been engulfed by COVID-19. While our nation has certainly seen fantastic stories of heroism born from the pandemic, our national crisis has also brought out the worst in people. If COVID-19 wasn’t bad enough, there are people in the world who are using this tragedy to profit through illegal streams. Sadly, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) indicated by the end of April that they had already received over 18,000 reports of fraud in connection to the pandemic.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, older Americans are susceptible to many of the reported scams being perpetrated relating to the crisis. For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP) has announced scams encompassing the medical world (vaccines, test kits and etc.), fictious charities, Social Security and people falsely impersonating a loved one requesting money.
One scam, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), involves seniors being contacted through the mail and told that their social security benefits could be in jeopardy because of COVID-19. The letter goes onto provide a phone number for recipients to contact to rectify the problem. Once they call the number, they are expected to share sensitive personal and financial information. In response to scams like, SSA noted, “Social Security employees continue to work. Social Security will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Any communication you receive that says SSA will do so is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call.”
In another example, the Denver District Attorney, Beth McCann, in an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS said that because of the pandemic, people are being fraudulently asked to provide bank information over the phone to get their stimulus checks faster. Furthermore, the elder abuse unit in McCann’s office reports of a couple who received an offer by a stranger to go grocery shopping; however, the couple had to provide the individual with their credit card information. McCann said in response, “And you know, you think that sounds like a good idea. But we just advise people: do not trust a stranger, do not give anyone your credit card information or bank account information, or let them into your home. Even if they seem nice, and they seem like they really want to help. Just rely on neighbors, friends, people that you know.”
So how can seniors be best prepared to weed out scams in the age of COVID-19?
First, SSA reports they will never pressure you with legal actions or offer you an increase in benefits in exchange for money, ask to handle matters in secret, email you personal information or ask for money through gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency or prepaid debit card. In addition, the FTC advises people to ignore all advertisements claiming to be a vaccine for COVID-19. Sadly, such a vaccine does not exist currently.
Plus, if someone is asking for money and claiming to be a relative, hang up the phone and call them back on their number, and ask questions only they would know. Furthermore, people should always research a charity before donating.
People should also take proactive steps when they come across scams like reporting the incidents to the authority. Federal government agencies like the Department of Justice (DOJ), Administration on Community Living (ACL) and the FTC have all setup platforms for people to report these cases. People can also take basic steps like calling their parents or grandparents and making them aware these schemes exist. While we probably can’t dissuade people from taking advantage of a national crisis, we can certainly make their lives significantly harder.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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