Be on the lookout for these five common scams that con artists direct against the elderly:
No. 1: "Virtual Kidnapping." This is an extortion play often directed against senior citizens and depends in part on the natural decline in hearing ability of the elderly. Here's how it works. An elderly person receives an unexpected phone call from an unknown number and is told that their grandchild has been kidnapped. In the background is the screaming or crying voice of what sounds like a young child. The scam victim is prohibited from speaking with the "kidnapped child" and is instructed NOT to communicate with authorities or any other person and to instead immediately wire money or drop cash to secure the release of the "kidnap victim." This scam is designed to panic elders into rushing out to their bank and wiring money to the con artists. In almost all cases, there is no kidnapping to speak of. The whole thing is a ruse. Advice: Stay calm and be aware that this is likely fake. Do not rush out and pay anyone. Call the police and check with your family members before taking any action.
No. 2: "You Won the Lottery!" You receive a call and are told by an unknown person that you won some prize, sweepstakes or lottery - all you have to do is pay a small fee or tax and your winnings will be released to you. Sometimes this is coupled with a fake check sent to you for cashing at your bank, to help you fund the pay off of the "fee or tax." Of course, the check will never clear and you will be held responsible by the bank for any funds you were paid on that fake check. Advice: Never pay in advance for any winnings unless and until you seek the advice of competent counsel. If you receive a check for your "winnings," you may attempt to deposit it - but do not pay anything to anyone or spend any of that money for at least ten calendar days to allow time for the bank to determine that the check is fake.
No. 3: "Pay That Debt!" Senior citizens receives a call from a purported debt collector concerning an unpaid obligation. The caller may seek personal information to "confirm your identity," including your social security number, date of birth and driver's license number. The senior is threatened with criminal liability if the debt is not immediately paid via wire transfer or debit card. Advice: Ask for the debt collector's mailing address and telephone number. Ask to be provided with all backup documentation concerning the purported debt. Ask for the full and complete, legal name of the original creditor to which the debt was incurred. Never give out any personal information, including social security number, during such a call, no matter how hard the other side tries to convince you that you must. Consult an attorney before making any payment.
No. 4: "Fake Tax Collector." This one is an oldie, but a goodie and is not only directed to elderly folks. This is where you get a call from a person claiming to be an IRS agent and threatening to have an arrest warrant released for you if you do not immediately pay all back taxes that you purportedly owe to the federal government. Other variants of this same scam include a threat to cancel your driver's license if payment is not received within the hour. Advice: The IRS never calls about debt collection issues and only corresponds by mail. They certainly do not call to "verify your social security number." Do not give out any information to these scammers. Ask for a callback telephone number. Demand that their payment demand be provided to you in writing on official IRS letterhead.
No. 5: "The Reverse Mortgage Scam." This one can take one of several forms. Either a family member pressures the elderly victim into obtaining a reverse mortgage on the victim's home and then usurps the loan proceeds for the suspect's own use; or a door to door home improvement sales person convinces the elderly person to sign a power of attorney authorizing her or him to act as her agent to obtain a reverse mortgage on the home, with the proceeds never being delivered to the victim and instead being taken for the suspect's own benefit. Advice: Never sign any document that gives any person power of attorney over you to act as your agent unless and until your attorney has first reviewed and approved the instrument. Never loan money to any person, even a family member, without having your attorney prepare a promissory note for the borrower to sign first. Pay attention to your mail. If you ever receive an unexpected copy of a deed of trust that was recorded against your home, call your attorney immediately as this is almost certainly a fraud in progress and the sooner it is dealt with, the better.
There are many other scams that you need to be aware of, but these are some of the most prevalent versions in today's world. Stay informed and be vigilant and never rush out to fork over your signature, private information or money to any person. Always consult your attorney and verify what you are being told by strangers.