By Wayne Gates
Older Americans are the number one target of financial scam artists, losing 37 billion dollars a year nationwide.
“Seventy percent of our nations wealth is controlled by those over the age of 50. They are more likely to have savings, retirement funds, own a home and have excellent credit. All of those things make them better targets,” said Brown County Prosecuting Attorney Zac Corbin.
Corbin and Michelle Hopkins of the Brown County Public Library are working together to present fraud fighting tips directly to seniors.
The first presentation will be Sept. 18 at 11 a.m. at the Sardinia Methodist Church. Another will be held at the St. Martin Church in Fayetteville at 11 a.m. on Oct. 22.
Corbin said that it’s important for seniors to realize that some people view them as a target.
“Criminals don’t want to hack into someone’s account that only has $27 in it, they want to go after someone who has thousands of dollars. You don’t want to steal someone’s identity if they have bad credit,” he said.
Corbin discussed some of the more common ways that seniors are scammed with The Brown County Press.
“Sadly, in about 60 percent of elder exploitation cases, the perpetrator is a family member or someone who is close to the senior citizen. That’s what we see here in Brown County all the time,” Corbin said.
He said one of the reasons that senior fraud is so prevalent is that it is rarely reported to authorities.
“The statistics show that for every incident of elder financial fraud that is reported, there are probably 40 that are not,” Corbin said.
He said the reasons that seniors don’t come forward can vary, but shame is at the top of the list.
”Many seniors are embarrassed. They feel like if they admit that they have been taken advantage of then their family might think that they can no longer take care of themselves.”
Corbin added that keeping an eye on who is in the lives of seniors is a good place to start.
“The family and caregiver scams are done by people who have access,” he said.
“All of a sudden if you have new best friends or relatives that suddenly show up that haven’t been around for a while, you need to keep an eye on that.”
The next step is securing and monitoring financial information.
“People have to be very careful about who they trust with their banking information. Don’t let people use your credit cards. Watch out for pressure to sign forms like powers of attorney,” Corbin said.
And don’t forget about credit card and bank statements and the credit and debit cards themselves.
“Keep all of those things secure. Make sure you are monitoring your bank account activity and make sure the transactions that are showing are in fact transactions that you made,” Corbin advised.
The telephone is another way that criminals try to work their way into the bank accounts of seniors.
“Watch out for phone calls where people are asking for any sort of personal information. Never take a call where someone is asking for credit card or personal identifying information. Never give that information out over the phone unless you know who you are talking to,” Corbin said.
Pressure to act quickly is a red flag that seniors are being scammed on the telephone. Typically, they will be told to purchase a gift card or send cash to pay a debt or help a family member in trouble.
Scammers are also known to walk right up and knock on the front door.
“A lot of them are home improvement type scams where they offer to resurface your driveway, repair your roof or the siding on your home. They will ask for the payment up front and then never do the work,” Corbin said.
Ohio Law has harsher penalties in store for anyone caught stealing from an elderly person, which is defined as anyone over 65 years of age.
“As an example, a normal petty theft under $1000 would normally be a misdemeanor. However, any theft against an elderly person is a felony, regardless of the amount. So the penalties are more serious if they are committed against an elderly victim,” Corbin said.
Finally, many elderly people fall victim to computer fraud each year.
“If they are venturing into the world of e-mail, they may not be quite as knowledgeable about scams, so they might be more likely to respond to e-mails where people are telling them that they have won a prize or contest and asking for banking information so they can get their winnings,” Corbin said.
Other typical e-mail scams are again, relatives asking for help or telling seniors they have a debt to pay to the IRS or other government agencies.
More information on current scams and how to protect yourself can be found at www.ohioprotects.org, which is maintained by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
The website also allows visitors to research a business or file a complaint.