What's New in Aging: Senate committee warns of 10 types of fraud

Tis the season — the one for scams in which telephone callers pretend to be Internal Revenue Service staff seeking money from seniors.

That particular type of fraudulent attempt was highlighted by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging in releasing its 2018 Fraud Book that contains information on the top 10 types of complaints reported to the committee’s “fraud hotline” (1-855-303-9470) during the prior year. The hotline received 1,463 complaints, representing a very small fraction of the illegal efforts to separate older adults from their funds.

Here’s how the committee described the scam list in ranking the 10 most common types of complaints:

1. IRS scam: A caller pretending to be from the IRS accuses a senior of owing back taxes and penalties to the government. (The committee reports there was a drop in such reports after a 2016 law enforcement crackdown on perpetrators, but the number is rising again. The IRS has noted, meanwhile, that it never initiates phone calls soliciting money from anyone.)

2. Robocalls: These simply represent complaints from people who report getting unwanted telephone calls despite being placed on the national Do-Not-Call Registry.

3. Sweepstakes scams: Callers make claims that somone has won a special prize, such as the Jamaican lottery, but the recipient has to offer up some money of his or her own in order to claim the prize.

4. “Are you there?” This is a new type of automated call in which scammers are simply searching for phone numbers at which people will pick up and acknowledge themselves. It leads to their phone number going on a list as a potential target for future scam calls.

5. Grandparent scams: Someone calls an older person pretending to be a young relative in dire need, prompting a request for a wire transfer of funds or other urgent financial help.

6. Computer scams: Criminals reach out to naive computer owners with offers of phony tech-support or with threats related to the operation of their computers, while seeking wire transfers or passwords through which they can access victims’ financial accounts.

7. Romance scams: Someone creates a fake online dating profile, gains a victim’s trust and then gets that person willingly to send money to meet some need, which sometimes includes a phony proposal to travel to visit the victim.

8. Elder financial abuse: This covers the many ways in which relatives, acquaintances, strangers and even hired professionals sometimes use an older adults’ funds without consent for their own purposes.

9. Identity theft: Criminals make attempts to gain personal information about an individual — such as a Social Security number — that can then be used to try to access their funds. (To help address this, Medicare is planning to issue new cards to beneficiaries that will no longer contain their full Social Security numbers.)

10. Government grants: Thieves sometimes call and pretend to be from a “government grants department” that will issue funds in the form of a grant once certain fees are paid. Don’t fall for it, or for any of the nine preceding this, either.

The ranking members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging are Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. That likely explains one otherwise-curious fact in the 2018 Fraud Book: More calls to the committee’s hotline come from Maine (521) and Pennsylvania (162) than from any other state, including ones much larger.

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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