Consumers lose billions of dollars each year to fraud. People older than 50 account for more than half of all victims, according to a study by AARP.
According to the FBI, seniors are most likely to have a nest egg, own their own home and have excellent credit, all which are attractive to would-be con artists.
These con artists use everyday tools — the mailbox, the phone and the Internet — to reach our pocketbooks. The phone calls seem to be the most prevalent.
How do we fight back?
Do not answer calls from numbers you do not know. Make sure that all of your phone numbers are on the do-not-call register. Hang up on robocalls.
Many seniors are disconnecting their land lines and only using their cellphones, which in many cases allows the owner to block phone numbers from scam callers (T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T offer the block-call feature). You can also turn to technology apps to block these calls.
If you answer the call because the number looks familiar, it may be. Current technology allows these scam artists to “ghost” local phone numbers even though they may be calling from overseas. Never answer the phone by saying “yes.” In fact, never use the word yes in the conversation, even if they ask you a question such as “can you hear me?” A yes can become a voice signature for fraudulent charges. Say “no” and hang up.
Never give your credit card number over the phone or online to any charity you have not checked out personally.
Before you give up your money, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. Ask the charity to send you information and you will make a decision then. Never promise to support them. To check that a charity is a legitimate organization, contact the secretary of state’s division at 1 (800) 332-4483 to make sure the organization is registered with the state.
Never pay in advance for a promise. Someone may ask you to pay in advance for mortgage assistance or tax help. They may even say you have won a prize but first you must pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear.
Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud — because they are embarrassed or don’t know who to report the crime to. In Washington, you can file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office via the website. The AG’s office also suggests you file with the National Fraud Information Center, which gathers information about fraud to assist consumers.
Stay informed. Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at ftc.gov/scams. Get the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox. Report scams to www.atg.wa.gov/senior-fraud. For charities check www.sos.wa.gov/charities.
“Coming of Age… Again” is edited by the Kirkland Senior Council, a group the City of Kirkland created in 2001 to advocate for older adults in the community.