Hale Law Blog

Thieves and Scammers Target Elders

An alarming number of scams and thefts target elders.

One type of scam takes advantage of the public’s confusion over changes in health insurance. Someone perpetrating this type of fraud may call a senior and say that new Medicare cards are being issued and they just need to verify some personal information. A similar trick is for callers to say they are IRS agents. The goal is to obtain personal details such as Social Security numbers, which can be used to set up credit cards or loans in victims’ names, or claim their income tax refunds.

Seniors may be targeted in part because they are more likely to answer the phone, because they may have retirement savings or because they are perceived as more trusting. However, scammers will defraud anyone they can. The federal government reported that almost 83,000 complaints of this type of imposter scam were received in 2012, an increase of 12 percent from 2011.

Other criminals target electronic Social Security benefits payments. More than $28 million in benefits was stolen from October 2011 to June 2013. The thieves begin by obtaining a victim’s personal information, such as Social Security number and bank account information, which is often done through the same type of fraudulent telephone call, with the scammers posing as government officials. The fraudsters then contact the Social Security Administration or the victim’s bank pretending to be the victim and have the electronic benefits payments transferred to an account that they control.

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging recently convened a panel of advocates and victims to learn what action can be taken to prevent this type of crime. Once the benefits have been stolen, getting them repaid can be difficult if not impossible.

On an individual level, seniors and others should take care to avoid being taken advantage of. First of all, never give out personal information such as a Social Security number to an unsolicited caller over the phone. Official communication from government agencies is by letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Never wire money to an unknown person or agree to accept debit or credit cards in another person’s name. If you receive a call from a person pretending to be a Social Security official, call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.

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