Financial scamming seminar
Scamming anyone is terrible. Scamming senior citizens is particularly deplorable.
Preventing it from happening was the reason for Pennsylvania Rep. Steve Samuelson’s (D-135th) Seniors Fraud and Scams forum held Aug. 13 at the Andrew W. Litzenberger House in Bethlehem. He was joined by two cabinet secretaries from the Wolf administration - Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne and Secretary of Revenue Dan Hassell.
The three state officials provided seniors with tips on how to first recognize fraud, how to prevent becoming a victim of it, and finally to whom they can report the incident. While scams are becoming more and more complex, their advice to seniors was simple: Don’t do it.
Seniors are targeted for financial fraud for many reasons. Two of the top reasons are their vulnerability and the fact they sometimes have money. There are more than 3 million individuals age 60 and older living in the commonwealth and officials said it is a priority of the Wolf administration to protect them from all types of abuse, including financial scams.
“Every year, older Pennsylvanians, and including Latino Americans, are losing billions of dollars to scammers and con artists,” Osborne said. “Criminals, truly, who are taking advantage of older adults vulnerabilities.”
Osborne said that as distressing as the financial exploitation is, it’s worse that few are actually documented.
“For every one case of financial exploitation or fraud that is reported, between 14 and 24 cases are never reported at all,” Osborne said.
Often, seniors don’t even know they are being scammed, don’t know to whom to report it, or are simply too embarrassed to say anything, she said.
“They are worried that their relatives, or friends, will think they no longer have the capacity to take care of their own financial affairs or they fear retaliation,” Osborne said.
All cases of senior fraud are complex and require considerable expertise to root out, Osborne said. Seniors attending the forum were told to report cases of fraud or financial exploitation to seek restitution and justice.
The state government’s strategy to combat is threefold: prevention, protection and response. Osborne told seniors to protect their financial information at all times and not to carry their Social Security cards with them. She added they should never share their banking or credit card number with anyone.
The telephone is a typical conduit for scams. While there are many phone schemes, the officials discussed some of the most common.
One is called “the grandparent scam.” The scam involves an older person receiving a phone call in which the person claims to be their grandchild. They quickly report they are in some type of dire straits and need money immediately. Here are some suggested responses seniors can take:
- Hang up and call back the number. Often no one will pick up or if they do, they will immediately hang up
- Ask personal questions, such as where did they go to school or about a family pet
- Check social media to make sure you are not disseminating any identifying information
- Whatever you do, do not send money right away
Hassell spoke about other newer scams. One involves cyber criminals who steal client data from accountants or tax professionals and then file fraudulent tax returns in the name of identity theft victims.
“It’s a new twist on an old scam,” Hassell said.
Scammers will the direct the refunds to the taxpayers’ real bank accountants through direct deposit instead of routing them to a separate account. The scam artist will then make a threatening phone call to trick taxpayers into returning the funds to the criminals.
While the scams may seem like something for which you’d never fall, millions do. Hassell urged seniors in attendance to think before they act.
“If any phone call or email appears suspicious, take a moment and think through the situation,” he said. “If something doesn’t feel quite right, follow your first instinct and don’t take any immediate action.”
Samuelson added that anything requiring “immediate action” is usually a red flag and something is not kosher. He added that any legitimate business would rarely, if ever, need payment immediately. To illustrate the point, he said even a utilities company would not immediately demand payment for late bills before disconnecting their services.
“We really wish it did not happen and did not exist, but the need is real.” Samuelson said of seniors fraud.
If you are a victim of identity theft or discover a fraudulent Pennsylvania income tax return was field using your identify, contact the Department of Revenue’s Fraud Investigation Unit at 717-772-9297 or RA-RVPIFRAUD@pa.gov.