Fraudsters and scam artists are nothing new, but changing tools and technology are making it easier than ever for scammers to target their victims, especially seniors. To protect your aging parents (or yourself) from these con artists, it’s crucial to equip yourself with the knowledge of how these scams work and what your loved ones need to know to keep their assets and emotions safe.
In this two-part series, we’ll explore four of the most recent and insidious financial scams that have surfaced, shedding light on their tactics and providing you with practical steps to shield your parents from potential harm.
01 | THE GRANDPARENT SCAM
One of the toughest parts about being the victim of a scam is the emotional and mental stress it usually causes. Scammers intentionally use urgency, alarm, or guilt to trick victims into making hurried decisions to send money to someone who needs “help.”
In the new “Grandparent Scam,” fraudsters will call or text senior adults pretending to be their grandchild. The scammer will claim that they’re in trouble and that they need the grandparent to send them money right away to bail them out of jail, buy a ticket home from a dangerous location, or pay for damages caused by a car accident.
In these scenarios, the scammer will usually ask the grandparent, “Grandma, do you know who this is?” to trick the grandparent to reveal the name of their grandchild so the scammer can use that name for the rest of the phone call. The scammer will then ask the grandparent to wire money to “help” the grandchild and ask that the grandparent don’t tell the grandchild’s parents for fear of them getting upset.
Some scammers are even using AI to disguise their voices while on the phone with the grandparent to sound more convincing. This scam preys on the love and concern our parents have for their children and grandchildren, and can easily cause young or tech-savvy parents to fall victim as well.
To protect your parents from being victimized by this scam, talk to them about the importance of never disclosing personal or financial information or the names of their loved ones in a text, phone call, or email. Instead, instruct them to ask who the caller is and to wait for the sender or caller to respond. If in doubt, the senior should ask the sender personal questions that only their real grandchild would know, but a scammer wouldn’t. Most importantly, encourage your parents to contact you before wiring or transferring money to anyone for any purpose, no matter what.
One strategy we particularly love is to have a family code word or phrase. For example, your code phrase may be “Cosmo is a spotted dog” and that code phrase would be known by everyone in the family so that if anyone is contacted in an emergency situation, the person could ask what’s our family code phrase, and the person calling, texting or emailing either knows it or doesn’t. And, if they don’t, it’s a no-go for help.
02 | PERSONALIZED PHISHING EMAILS
Imagine opening your inbox to an urgent email from a seemingly legitimate source – perhaps your bank, a popular online retailer, or even a social media platform. The message claims there has been suspicious activity on your account and urges you to click a link or provide sensitive information to verify your identity. This is the classic phishing email – a crafty attempt to deceive you into revealing your personal data.
Phishing has been around since email became mainstream, but what has changed is the depth to which scammers feign legitimacy. Even if you or your parents are familiar with phishing email schemes, new approaches and advances in technology are making it harder than ever to detect a phishing email.
Same Scammers, New Tricks
Phishers often pose as trusted entities such as banks, governments, or department stores. But in recent years, phishers have been sending their victims more personalized emails to trick them into thinking the message is from someone the victim personally knows or is personally connected with. The email will address the victim by name and may appear to come from a friend, co-worker, or supervisor. It may even contain a legitimate-looking email domain, signature, or logo.
The email will usually claim that there is a time-sensitive matter that needs to be addressed, such as a gift that needs to be purchased for a co-worker’s birthday or important client, and asks the victim to purchase the gift via online gift cards, PayPal, or crypto.
For example, you may see an email that reads:
“Hi Jim, this is Mr. Boss. I’m going to be in meetings all day today but I need to send a gift to our new client right away. Please purchase a $200 gift card on Amazon and send it to this email address. I will then forward it to our client.”
Some phishers will pose as banks, lending agencies, or debt relief programs and claim that you have been approved for special credit or financial assistance. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, student loan pause, and hurricane season, you may have seen an email like this: “Hi Aaron, it’s Gav with Hardship Relief Program. We tried reaching you at your home and did not hear back… I’m not sure if you’ve spoken to an assigned agent yet, but I do see that you’re pre-approved for our Hardship Program. So, what I’m going to do is keep this in a pending status. Please give me a call between the hours of 8 AM and 10 AM EST to go over the details. My number is 555-886-3424.”
Identifying Scams: It’s All in The Details
Before you respond to any kind of email requesting a phone call, consider whether the sender’s request seems legitimate. Did you actually open an account or fill out an application? Is it normal for your boss to email you about important requests?
Always scrutinize the sender’s email address, even if it looks legitimate, by hovering your cursor over the email address to reveal its true origin. Avoid clicking on suspicious links, and never share personal information via email, no matter how professional the sender’s email appears.
Check the email and “from address” for typos, and verify the information provided by the sender, such as the company name and phone number, by searching for it online. When in doubt, contact the company directly through official channels to confirm the authenticity of the message.
03 | THE ONLINE OVERPAYMENT SCAM
In the world of online buying and selling sites like Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, and Craigslist, scammers are increasing their attacks and their success by preying on the good conscience of other people.
In the overpayment scam, the fraudster contacts the victim pretending to be interested in purchasing an item the victim has listed for sale online. The scammer offers to purchase your item, usually at an inflated price and appears to make a payment that’s higher than the agreed-upon amount.
The scammer then requests that you refund the excess amount they “accidentally” sent, and will usually act panicked, upset, and harried. The scammer may even threaten to report the victim to the police for “stealing” the scammer’s money.
But here’s where the twist comes in: the overpayment sent by the scammer was actually fake – a fraudulent check or a forged payment confirmation email that made it seem like you received funds when in fact the scammer didn’t send anything at all. When you refund the overpaid amount, you’re essentially giving away your legitimate money, and by the time the scam is realized, the scammer has disappeared into the digital abyss.
To protect yourself and your parents from this sinister scam:
- Always require online buyers to pay through traceable means, such as PayPal, Cash App, or Venmo.
- Avoid sending and receiving money from strangers through non-refundable money transfer services like Zelle.
- Never accept more money than the purchase price.
- If the buyer wants a refund, verify that you actually received the funds by logging into your payment servicer account and checking your balance there. Do not rely on a confirmation email which can be easily faked, especially if your payment account does not show any payment received.
Preserving Your Assets and Protecting Your Loved Ones
Staying on top of constantly changing financial scams can feel overwhelming, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can help keep yourself and your aging parents safe from the financial and emotional harm scams cause.
As your Estate Planning firm, we’re available to help guide a discussion with you and your parents about your financial well-being as part of your estate plan, including how to catalog their assets and how to make it as easy as possible for you to help each other in the case of an emergency or scam attempt.
If you want to know more about how working with de Jesus Law Group can help you and your family, schedule a free 15-minute discovery call today. It would be my honor to look after your family’s plans now and for years to come.