How To Help Florida Seniors Protect Themselves from Fraud and Identify Theft
One of the most important duties we have to our elderly family members is to assist them in avoiding the numerable identity theft and other fraudulent schemes targeting them.
According to the FBI, millions of seniors each year are victimized by identity theft and other scams utilizing the internet, e-mail, the US Postal Services, and any number of other mediums.
Florida seniors are particularly susceptible to fraud and identity theft for a number of reasons. Lack of familiarity with e-mail protocols, lack of internet sophistication, embarrassment over reporting incidents of fraud, and fear of reporting these crimes due to concern over their family-members’ reactions are among these reasons.
This Article is intended to educate the families of seniors who may be targeted.
The Article will discuss some of the most common types of scams for which we should be on the look-out. It will describe some basic steps that can be taken by concerned families in the protection of an elderly relative. Finally, this Article will conclude with some advice for those who believe a family member has been victimized by fraud or identity theft.
Types of Elder Fraud Scams in Florida
In the Orlando area, as well as across the United States, con artists have utilized some unfortunately tried-and-true methods to extract money from unsuspecting seniors.
Seniors are often targeted via websites concerning typical hobbies, senior living, or other alluring subject matter. Upon visiting the site, a trojan or other software is downloaded that harvests your family member’s personal data. Alternatively, a website pop-up announces the presence of a virus and requests your loved one’s Social Security number to “clean” it.
Phony online shopping websites have cropped up on the web as well, designed purely for the purpose of mining your loved one’s credit card, password, and other such information.
Reviewing (with permission) your family member’s website browsing history and discussing and locating “safe” websites will allow you to help your loved one avoid stumbling into a trap.
Ensure that your seniors do not simply click on website ads to enter a shopping website but, instead, directly visit the websites of reputable retailers.
2. Phishing/Email Scams
Phishing or email scams involve the sending of an email with a link or attachment requesting that the receiver click the link and enter password or other personally identifying information (PII) or open the attachment, downloading a virus.
Phishing emails will often appear to be from a friendly sender, unless the receiver hovers his or her cursor over the sender’s name to reveal the actual email address from which it has been sent. This is usually a third-party email address or computer that has itself been hijacked by a hacker.
The best way to assist your elderly relative with avoiding such schemes is to alert them to the likelihood of receiving such emails, show them the “cursor trick” and counsel them to delete emails from strangers without opening or reading them—and certainly without clicking on or downloading anything.
3. Telemarketing or Telephone Scams
“Telephone scams” are not really a category of fraudulent scheme unto themselves but a descriptor for the primary medium through which the elderly in Florida are targeted: the telephone.
Con artists approach seniors by way of the telephone in order to execute a variety of scams, some well-known, some lesser known.
The increasingly well-publicized “grandparent” scam is a method in which the con artist phones a senior and pretends to be a family-member in need of money for medical bills, attorney fees, emergency travel expenses, and more.
A phone-caller can target a senior by pretending to be a government official, such as an IRS agent or law enforcement officer, or an insurance claims representative, and more.
The quality of telephone-related scams that is so perpetually useful to the con artist is the ability to assuage the target through vocal technique. Soothing tones, an expression of concern, the ability to crack a joke that appears to be improvised and get a laugh, to gauge the reaction or interest-level of the senior are tools of the con unique to telephone—and in-person—scams.
If not a means to directly elicit funds from an elderly target, the telephone is also a good means of obtaining PII that can be later used to perpetuate identity fraud.
Counseling your elderly family member to disengage from any strange caller and to provide no personal information, whether banking information or even the names of other family members, is the best way to assist your family member.
4. Credit Cards and Paperwork Scams
Identity theft often occurs without the immediate knowledge of the victim. PII is obtained through one avenue or another, and a line of credit is then opened from a credit card issuer’s website form application page. Just like that, the identity has been stolen.
One of the avenues through which confidential PII can be retrieved is through hard copy paper. Paperwork not properly disposed of can be retrieved from trash bins or mailboxes. It is mined for Social Security numbers, banking information, health and prescription information, and other valuable intelligence.
Your senior will not be aware of this activity until he or she is denied a loan or begins to receive collection notices for strange debts in the mail.
The best way to assist your elderly family member is to coach him or her as to best practices. Purchase a good crosscutting shredder for your senior, and teach him or her how to use it and how to properly dispose of the shredded paper.
Further, coach your loved one as to the sorts of mailings that may be legitimately expected from agencies such as the IRS or the Florida State Treasury Department.
Let your loved one know that you are there to answer questions about anything strange unfamiliar received by mail and that you will assist with the proper disposal of hard copy information.
Bolster your family member’s comfort level with asking, and never make them feel foolish or stupid for having done so.
5. Mortgage scams
Reverse mortgage and other mortgage-related scams are another deep pitfall for elderly Floridians.
While there are legitimate reverse mortgage products available in the real estate market, there are just as many (if not more) illegitimate products.
A mortgage scam is perpetuated by amoral mortgage brokers and appraisers for the purpose of wresting the equity out of your loved one’s most valuable asset, the home.
The elderly are particular targets for such operators as a sizable percentage of older homeowners have significant equity, having purchased their homes decades in the past, prior to the recent steep increase in real estate value.
In the sleaziest of reverse mortgage offers, the package is not insured by the Federal Housing Authority. Operators offer investments, vacation packages, timeshare packages, and other bells and whistles to lure in elderly homeowners. A well-known celebrity may even appear on a television commercial to lend a reverse mortgage a veneer of respectability.
Other mortgage scams include solicitations for refinance offers, home equity loans, property tax re-assessment offers, and other mortgage products that may be both unnecessary and over-valued.
How do you best protect homeowning seniors?
Introduce your loved one to an experienced, licensed Florida elder care attorney or a Florida estate planning attorney before doing anything.
Do not engage in “self-help” maneuvers such as quitclaim deeds or homemade trust instrument drafting.
It is dangerous for elderly homeowners to take such steps as quitclaiming a home’s title to a child or grandchild or anyone else, as this can expose the property to the assignee’s creditors or bankruptcy trustees.
It is more useful for you to build a level of trust with your loved one to ensure that they will discuss any possible real estate transaction with you before signing off on it.
6. Other Types of Fraud Targeting Seniors in Florida
Fraudulent schemes involving funeral expense add-ons, fraudulent anti-aging products, Medicare fraud, fraudulent charities, online romance scams, online account takeover schemes, and others.
Helping Florida Seniors Avoid Fraud and Identity Theft: The Bottom Line
In all cases, you can best assist your senior by keeping your lines of communication open with him or her, ensuring that they are comfortable speaking to you about such things and about financial decisions, and assuring your loved one at all times that you do not consider such questions or confusion about these topics evidence of foolishness or, in particular, senility.
Ensure that your loved one is able to discuss these matters while maintaining his or her personal pride.
Attorney Shea Fugate has successfully represented Florida elder care clients for over 20 years.