By now we are all realizing this is the new normal , whatever the new normal is. I finally unpacked my suitcase as I realized the farthest I was going was to my living room or my bedroom and that I was lucky to see people, places, things through the wonders of Zoom.

So tired of bad news, I turned to watching Some Good News with John Krasinski and did catch some episodes of Tiger King 🐯, made virtual friendships with Alley Love on the Peloton, am grateful for the traveling zoom meetings and meeting with my clients, daily FaceTime with my grandchildren and I always look forward to Maria Shriver’s Sunday Morning newsletter.

I thought about how grateful I was as I had a roof over our head, food and had the ability to reach out and see all of you. I also know the world gives you a jolt even when you don’t want one, so the loud cracking thank god no damage 4.5 earthquake we had last Friday and again just now on Sunday was even more a wakeup call to reach out to others and to be grateful all is ok.

Seriously though in this time of uncertainty, of hunkering down so many folks are oh so vulnerable. Fraud Victimization is on the rise:

  • Last week I had the privilege of being part of a stellar think tank put together by folks from AARP Fraud Network Foundation the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and moderated by Heart and Mind Strategies. Joining me were 11 other experts: including
  • Duke Han PHD. ABPP-CN Director of Neuropsychology, Keck School of Medicine USC
  • Anna Mills, Victim Advocate
  • April DeValkenaere, SBWCP, CFCI, Fortress Financial Education LLC ,Dave Kirkman, Retired Special Deputy Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, NC Attorney General’s Office, and Fraud Volunteer, AARP North Carolina ,Debbie Deem, Victim Advocate and FAST Coordinator, Greater Los Angeles
  • Duke Han, PhD. ABPP-CN, Director of Neuropsychology, Keck School of Medicine of USC
  • Hector Ortiz, Senior Analyst, Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Kristy Holtfreter, PhD., Trauma Support Expert, Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University
  • Lindsay Nakamura, Rape Crisis Counselor, The Coalition for Family Harmony
  • Marti DeLiema, Assistant Professor of Research, School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota Naomi Karp, Consulting Research Scholar, Stanford Center on Longevity
  • Ron Acierno, PHD, Executive Director of the UTHealth Trauma and Resilience Center McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston
  • Steve Baker, Director, Federal Trade Commission Midwest Region

Needless to say, I am honored to be a part of this group

The purpose of the think tank is to highlight and develop evidenced based solutions for effective interventions and messaging for chronic fraud victimization victims. As such their vulnerabilities appeared to me to be similar to addiction and my role on this think tank is to serve as a practicing addiction expert.

Approximately 1 out of 10 Americans are victims of fraud each year. Have you or your clients been Victims? I know that my family has been victimized with respect to Financial as well as the Grandparent Scam. In talking with my good friend and colleague Susan Berlin from DC she fell prey as did social worker Jennifer Torio in San Diego to scams.

Americans lose billions of dollars each year to scammers / criminals through imposter scams such as Social Security, Medicare, Taxes plus National Disasters, fake charity scams, family relationships, fake prize promotions etc.

In today’s age new scams are appearing as they relate to Covid 19 such as Buy Purell, Masks etc.

The three areas where the researchers see the “most and are chronic in nature are investment, sweepstake and lottery, romance/ friendship scam

This is important for all of us to know as they “conjecture that chronic fraud victimization” is likely a result of a victim’s emotional vulnerability coupled with expert fraud and manipulation tactics. This means that if you were once a fraud victim you have a higher likelihood to fall prey again.

In many respects think about a person being isolated and alone, if someone you don’t know or reaches out or even someone close to you offers you something or scares you into something such as grandparent scam. You are alas open and vulnerable.

The betrayal is intense and like addiction releases a surge of dopamine, you become hyper vigilant, have difficulty with impulse control and at a risk fall prey to more and more. As the addiction practitioner, of the group I found it fantasticating in our first discussion the similarities between addiction in which are brain is hijacked and with fraud victimization.

Some of the common warning signs that someone may be a victim of financial abuse

  • Recent changes in persons account-large charge card purchase, purchases in areas where they have never been, sudden use of an ATM or Credit Card
  • The Person, who is the victim, appears confused, affairs. Their cognitive abilities appear diminished
  • The person may be secretive, stop communicating with their family when they are busy such as romantic scams
  • Bills start being unpaid even though there is enough money
  • They have a stockpile of free gifts as they are on a sweepstake “sucker” list
  • A Caregiver will not allow family to be with or talk to the senior

For all of you out there I invite you to become familiar with common types of scams , make sure if you are a professional to ask in your initial bio-psycho social about money and scams and if you are a relative make sure you inquire about how one is spending their money or if they have  made any new friends in COVID 19.

  • Make sure you have people look at incoming phone numbers, they are not where they are supposed to be from.
  • Report to local authorities if you see one. Host community wide forums in Nursing homes, Senior centers
  • Send out in your newsletters or talk about this on your podcasts.
  • Get the word out….

Please remember Scam Con Artists are Experts at hitting you where you are most vulnerable, lonely and isolated

Here are some of the most common scams

  1. Telemarketing/ Phone Scams – Did you know seniors are twice as likely to purchase over the phone than any other group. With no face to face interaction and no paper trail these are hard to track. These are according to the National Council on Aging the most common scams Examples of telephone scams include
  • The “Pigeon Drop” – The con artist tells a person the he or she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith payment” by withdrawing funds from their bank account Often there is a second con artist that poses as a banker or lawyer
  • The Fake Accident Ploy – The Con artist says that a dear relative grandchild and they know the persons name was in an accident and need money immediately
  • The Fake Arrest – Again there is a reach out indicating your grandson/daughter was arrested and he/she does not want their parents to know so keep this a secret and you need to send $( a Best Buy card to post bail etc.
  • Charity Scams – Money is solicited for fake charities. Be careful in Covid 19 to distinguish between legitimate food and hospital supply Charities
  • Romance Scam – The days of online dating is here even for seniors. You get a reach out and the person is oh so lovely, so handsome, so beautiful. You love the attention. It warms your heart. They need some help; you offer them some cash and then they need more and more cash. There have been alas plenty of folks that when they are don have transferred their life savings to unknown accounts.
  • Please remember these can start out over email as well.  

2. Internet Fraud:

  • If you are like me a firewall, pop up browsers, virus protection plans are all not in my usual repertoire and yes from time to I have unwittingly been overly tempted to subscribe
  • Email/Phishing Scams – Herse when a senior or even you receive an email message from what looks like a legitimate source and asks them to update or verify their information like social security number etc. Or they receive an email verifying a tax refund or the way to get more money. The problem is these use logos of companies and at first glance look oh so real

2. Investment schemes:

  • It’s no mistake that Seniors find themselves needing to plan for retirement and manage their savings. One of the biggest investment frauds of the century was of course Madoff where people believed that they would not only have savings but also a great return on their investments. Another one that is in the courts now is Aequitas. And then there is the Nigerian prince looking for someone to claim his inheritance etc. The painful moral of the story is be careful if the investment sounds too good to be true a 10 or 12 percent return rate no matter who is offering to you best friend, relative, confidante etc. walk away. Please remember the scam artist can be as was the case of Madoff someone one you knew and trusted,
  1. The Grandparent Scam: A person impersonates a grandchild and calls and hooks the grandparent in right away. This is a heinous crime which the child is in trouble. Hands off the phone to the authorities to share what the problem in

The fake grandchild invariably asks for money, says don’t tell my parents I am in trouble and asks that one send money in a non-traceable way

  1. Funeral and Cemetery Scams
  • Scammers look at obituaries and funeral services. They reach out to the surviving spouse and claim that the deceased person owed them money. They may veen submit an invoice to show you and they may try to extort money for fake debts
  • Funeral homes capitalize on death and upcharge on the caskets, funeral plot etc.

  5.Medicare or Social Security Scams-

  • Perpetrators pose as Medicare representatives to get their social security and other information or they will provide mobile clinics, then use personal information to bill Medicare
  1. Counterfeit or Prescription Drugs- Face Masks- Hand Sanitizers- Masks etc.
  • Looking for drugs online as they are cheaper. “The problem is that they often pay for something that is not, helpful, the scammer now has their credit card and the scam is as hard on their body as well as their pocketbook
  • Be careful ordering Face Masks, Hand Sanitizers etc. You may never receive, and your credit card information is out for the taking

7. Fraudulent Anti- Aging Products. When 60 is the new 40 and 70 is the new 50 and we all have to work for a living looking good is. Be careful what you order online, check it out-those before and after photos can lie and the product can do more harm than good. When in doubt it is always safer to order from a reputable company.

  8. Homeowner/Reserves mortgage scams-

  • “A particularly elaborate property tax scam in San Diego saw fraudsters sending personalized letters to different properties apparently on behalf of the County Assessor’s Office. The letter, made to look official but displaying only public information, would identify the property’s assessed value and offer the homeowner, for a fee of course, to arrange for a reassessment of the property’s value and therefore the tax burden associated with it.”
  • Closely related is the potential for a reverse mortgage. Here if someone has equity in their home, they are taken advantage of
  • Also be careful of Home repair folks who can approach you directly and offer an unbelievable savings on the work. You just have to pay up front and then the work never gets done
  1. Lottery, Prize Money Scams
  • A senior will be notified they won a lottery and will be sent a fake check which they deposit into their bank account, only after a few days the check bounces. During that time the fraudster will collect tax money or fees and there will be nothing in one’s bank account.

Here are 8 tips from the National Council on Aging and my own research to help you protect your yourself and your loved ones

  • Be aware you are at risk from strangers and from “loved ones”- Sadly over 90 percent of elder abuse is done by folks close to family members. Common tactics are joint checking accounts, outright theft of property, jewelry etc. and other forms of verbal and physical abuse
  • Stay Busy and Involved- don’t Isolate
  • Tell People who are soliciting funds from you, to send you something in writing. Do Not give your email
  • Do not rush to pick the phone up. Let it go to voice mail. Perpetrators prey on people who react impulsively.
  • Have a shredder- Shred all receipts with credit card numbers
  • Do not save your bank login. Make sure you have to login each time and change your passwords frequently
  • Use direct deposit for Social security, retirement checks etc.
  • Never give your credit card, banking over the phone unless you initiated the call
  • Report any malfeasance to Adult Protective Services in Your City.
  • Stay Curious, stay skeptical of strange inquiries made

Lastly if you have been scammed or discover that your credit card was hacked -Take action. Recently, my card was hacked twice. The first time, I was working in Fresno California, my credit card was hacked I was purchasing a country club membership in Branson Missouri. The second time I was in Palm Desert and suddenly shopping at a Walmart In Lake Havasu, Arizona. In each instance I immediately:

  • Called my bank and credit card company
  • Disputed Charges
  • Canceled my card
  • Reset my personal ID

As behavioral health professionals, social workers, psychologists, marriage family therapist, addiction specialists, businesspersons it is imperative that we be vigilant in our advocacy and vocal in helping those most vulnerable.

Let me hear from you what you are experiencing and doing in this arena.