By APRIL BOYKIN
In the medical profession, we frequently field questions, complaints, or even tales of woe from our patients who are victims of fraud. It is easy to feel helpless when we hear one of our patients has been devastated by a scam. Older adults lose an estimated $3 billion each year in scams. Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they are now considered "the crime of the 21st century." These scams often go unreported and are challenging to prosecute, so for criminals, they are considered a "low-risk" crime, which leads to increased rates of occurrence. However, we know how devastating these crimes are to our vulnerable patients who have little time or ability to recoup losses.
Knowing the most common scams can help us protect our patients from being victims of fraud. The following are the ten most common scams that prey on our seniors.
- Government Imposter: This will be a person or robotic call identifying as the IRS, Social Security, or even local Law Enforcement. Typically, the caller states that someone is using the patient's social security number or there is unusual activity, an outstanding warrant, or a claim against their Medicare number. This type of scam results in our seniors feeling afraid and sharing more of their personal information to resolve the issue.
- Medicare/Medicaid or Health Insurance: Similar to the Government Imposter, this caller will state that a purchase recommended by the doctor is having trouble going through or someone is using the patient's insurance number. They will ask for health insurance information or encourage the patient to change insurances.
- Grandparent or Family Emergency: Typically, this is a call made by a person claiming to be an attorney or Law Enforcement Officer. The caller will state that the grandchild or family member is "in trouble," maybe a DUI or an arrest for something else. In the background, a voice will be saying, "I don't want to go to jail," "Don't tell dad,"or describing an accident and saying, "please help." Ultimately there will be a request for money, even an offer for a driver who will pick up the money.
- Sweepstakes/Lottery: Again, a caller will state that the patient has won a giant lottery or sweepstake, but to receive the money, taxes or a tariff must be paid upfront. All state lotteries and Sweepstake providers will always take the money out before awarding any financial win.
- Romance Scams: People who experience these are the hardest hit. They result in an emotional connection to someone who grooms our seniors over a period of time to believe in the existence of a relationship. These predators will text or email frequently, often hours each day, inundating the recipient with messages of love and connection. Often men will get pictures of mostly naked women wanting to escape a bad situation. Women will get photos of rugged men who are contractors or builders needing financial help for equipment to secure a contract. After spending weeks getting to know them, telling them how much they love them, they begin asking for small amounts of money on a credit card, such as apple pay. Then the requests for more significant amounts start. These connections never meet in person and are always facilitated through text and email.
- DME-Another scam related to medical equipment is when our patient is told that the doctor has ordered medical equipment, but the Medicare number is not correct to place the order. The senior often then gives out personal information used for other purposes.
- Tech Support/Internet Service: This call is a hacker telling our patient that there is a problem with the internet or cable, which they can fix remotely. After logging on to the patient's computer, they can access all of their accounts, saved passwords, etc.
- Robo Calls: This call will involve a voice saying, "Can you hear me" - when you say yes, they can use that as verbal approval for other activities.
- Charity Scams: Asking for money for a charity that does not exist, or does, but is not affiliated.
- Driveway/Roof/Tree Cutting: this has been a longstanding scam in Florida where people stop by your home, uninvited, offering to fix your roof, driveway, or remove a tree, and having you pay upfront.
There are many Red Flags we should encourage our patients to be on the lookout for that will indicate they might be a victim of fraud. Any calls that include bullying, threatening, and aggressive interactions are fraudulent. The IRS, Social Security, and Medicare will never call; they will always send a letter. If the caller refuses to stop calling when asked, there is a problem. Anyone requesting money on a credit card, google play, or apple card or asking to purchase Bitcoin are big Red Flags. Hours of texting with someone but never having an actual telephone call is a Red Flag. Anyone asking for personal information is a Red Flag. Remind our seniors to trust their instincts, discuss solicitations with family members, and if it feels wrong, it probably is just that.
There are simple solutions for combating these calls. Asking, "Who are you trying to reach,"- will often cause fraudulent callers to hang up. Alternately, ask for a "call back" number and call back to see if it is an actual information line or looking it up on the internet to see if it matches a valid website can provide an additional level of protection. Screening who is calling is important, making sure they know correct information without offering it (such as the referring doctor's name).
Direct your patients who have experienced a scam to do the following:
- Call the local Police Department and file a report.
- Contact Orlando Secret Service at 407-648-6333 and file a report.
- Go to www.FTC.gov and complete an identity theft report.
- Pull a Credit Score Report and see if there is any other fraudulent activity.
- Use Google Images Reverse Look Up to see if any of the pictures sent have a history of use by others or are known as fraudulent.
- Use www.SocialCatfish.com, to input received pictures to see if they are fraudulent.
Many victims are hesitant to disclose these incidents due to fear of embarrassment. It is important that you help increase awareness to prevent future victimization of your patients. Visit our website at www.counselingresourceservices.com to print a Rack Card handout you can give your patients to start this conversation. and help keep them safe.
April Boykin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and cofounder of Counseling Resource Services (CRS). Established in 2013, CRS is a community-based in-home integrated behavioral health agency serving the aged and disabled population in Central Florida. As a mental health counselor, she has provided individual, family and caregiver counseling to children, teens and adults. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org