Scams against seniors: 17 deceptions that target Ohio’s older residents

Published: Friday, March 08, 2019 @ 12:58 PM

Reporter Lynn Hulsey investigates how elderly people are being scammed. John North chief executive of the local Better Business Bureau said the problem is growing.

People over age 60 are more likely to be victimized by internet-facilitated criminal activity by scammers.

According to the FBI’s 2017 Internet Crime Complaint Center annual report, that age group ranks No. 1 in terms of victimization and dollar losses.

In 2017, there were 49,523 complaints with adjusted dollar losses listed at $342 million. However, this does not include complaints made to local and state law enforcement agencies or other federal agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission.

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MORE ON SCAMS

The Journal-News investigated scams in Butler County and the region for a special report that published in the Sunday newspaper. Click here to view the front page from Sunday, and here’s a look at what the Journal-News found:

• She chased down her scammer for a positive ending. Here’s why so many stories don’t end that way.
• Dangerous scams: 10 schemes that hustled the most money from victims
• Scams from A to Z: Everything you need to know about types of schemes

Sandra Guile of the Cincinnati office of the Better Business Bureau said the office has received a lot of calls in the region about romance scams, sweepstakes/lottery scams, income tax scams, home improvement scams, energy/utility supplier scams and robocalls.

“If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer,” Guile said. “The IRS won’t call you if there is a problem because they contact people by mail. If you’re in trouble with the IRS, call them directly to set up a payment plan.”

In 2018, the Better Business Bureau’s Cincinnati office received 511 scam or fraud complaints. Guile said of that number, there was nearly $1.36 million in actual dollars lost from crimes that took place and money taken before it was were reported to BBB. She said scammers and fraudsters tried to take another $125,978 or incidents reported to the BBB before any dollars were lost.

In addition, of the 511 reports made to the BBB, 453 people provided their age. People age 65 and older made the most reports with 97 scam/fraud complaints and that 292 women and 164 men reported complaints to the BBB. The top two ways scammers and fraudsters contacted people were by phone, 248 complaints; and email, 65 complaints, Guile said.

Here’s some of the more common scams affecting seniors listed by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office:

Advance Fee Loans:

In this ploy, scam artists trick you into paying money to qualify for a loan. Scam artists may “guarantee” a line of credit or promise to deposit money in your bank account once you pay an initial fee. You should never pay money to qualify for a loan.

Computer Repair Scams

An “employee” of a computer company contacts you claiming your computer has a virus and offers to “fix the problem.” The person will likely ask you to allow them access to your computer, which then allows the scammer to install malicious software designed to scan your computer for personal information or to lock your computer so that you cannot use it until you pay the scammer “ransom” to unlock it.

Credit Repair Scams

These scams advertise on the Internet, on TV and even on telephone poles that bad credit can be erased and debts can be consolidated. Many of them charge hundreds or thousands of dollars but do little or nothing to improve your credit. If you want to improve your credit, contact a credit reporting agency or your creditor directly. You may be able to arrange a payment plan yourself — for no cost.

Fake Check Scams

Someone sends you a check or money order. He asks you to deposit it in your account and then wire-transfer him the money, minus a nice bonus for you, a “thank you” for helping out. Regardless of the pitch, the result is the same: the check or money order you receive will be a counterfeit. Never send money to a stranger.

Foreclosure Rescue Scams

These scams target homeowners who are having trouble making their mortgage payments. A phony foreclosure rescue company might contact you and promise to negotiate with your mortgage lender. You pay thousands of dollars, but the company makes little or no contact with your lender. Another version is a phony “investor” offers to buy your house and lease it back to you until you can afford your mortgage payments. The investor takes your money but does not transfer the mortgage loan or pay your lender. As a result, you risk losing your equity and your home.

Grandparent Scams

In this scam, con artists pose as grandchildren. They may call and say, “Hi Grandma” or “Hi Grandpa,” then make up a story explaining that they are stuck in another country and need you to send money via wire transfer. Of course, any money you send will go to the scammer, not to your real grandchild. When in doubt, ask the caller a question only your family members would know how to answer.

Home Improvement Fraud

This occurs when contractors or companies do not complete the work they were paid to do. These scams often involve door-to-door contractors who offer to repair your roof, paint your house or fix your furnace. After you pay, however, the contractor disappears without doing any work or doing a poor job on the repairs. To avoid scams, research reputable contractors, don’t make large down payments, and avoid paying in cash, as credit cards offer stronger protection if something goes wrong.

Identity Theft

This occurs when a criminal uses someone else’s personal information, such as a credit card number, bank account number, insurance information, or Social Security number, to purchase goods or services fraudulently. To help prevent identity theft, never give personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust.

Imposter Scams

Someone may contact you pretending to be from a government agency – like the IRS or the local court. The person will demand immediate payment, likely for back taxes or an old court fee, and threaten arrest if payment is not made immediately. The scammer may also request personal information, such as your social security number.

Living Trust Scams

A living trust is a legal arrangement where assets are transferred into a trust while the consumer is still alive, which keeps the assets from going through probate court when the consumer dies. Trusts can be useful estate planning devices, but scam artists have been known to make exaggerated or false claims about probate costs or about the tax advantages of living trusts. These scams usually target lower income consumers, whose limited estates likely would incur minimal probate costs, by using high-pressure sales tactics. . Contact an attorney directly for individual advice before signing any contracts or making any purchases. There are also legal aid programs that offer free help for seniors. Never buy legal services from door-to-door salespeople or telemarketers.

Investment Fraud

A scammer might offer you a “risk-free” investment only to steal your money.An example of this is when scam artists convince consumers to invest in coins and precious metals, such as gold. Remember, all investments involve risk. Consult with trusted family members or friends before making important financial decisions.

Phony Charities

You receive a call or letter asking you to make a charitable donation from someone who is only pretending to represent a charity. Always ask how much of your donation would actually go to the charity. Charitable organizations must register with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Predatory Lending

Customers get into loans they cannot afford. For example, you might sign a loan for a new house thinking you are getting a good deal. Periodically, however, your mortgage payments increase, and you realize you owe more than you can pay. Signs of predatory lending include: repeated refinancing, balloon payments, inflated appraisals, misrepresented interest rates and fees, loans that do not benefit the consumer, and loans that a consumer cannot repay.

Prizes/Sweepstakes Fraud

Someone may fictitiously claim that you have won the lottery, a contest or other prize. In order to collect your winnings, however, you’ll be asked to pay a fee. Often, you’ll be instructed to send money via wire transfer or money order, possibly to a foreign country. Remember that legitimate sweepstakes are free and require no purchases.

Reverse Mortgage Abuse

This is not a scam; it is a loan that allows older consumers to convert home equity into cash. However, some unscrupulous salespeople might pressure you into taking out a reverse mortgage that has very high fees. Others tempt you to use money from the loan to buy annuities or investments that may not benefit you.

Sale of Annuities

Consumers who buy a living trust should be wary of salespeople who come back and offer additional services such as an annuity. When you buy an annuity, you give a large sum of money to an insurance company, and it pays you back on a regular basis, usually for as long as you live or for a specific period of time. Dishonest, high pressure salespeople will charge high fees and sell deferred annuities that often are not suitable for the consumer’s current age and financial situation. Read all the terms and conditions and seek advice from people you trust before making a major financial investment.

Work-at-Home and Business Opportunity Ploys: These scams use sales pitches claiming that you can make good money working from home or getting involved in a business opportunity. You will be urged to pay up-front for materials or start-up costs. Beware of seminars that promise money making advice but deliver only high-pressure sales pitches.

SOURCE: Ohio Attorney General’s Office