‘Tis the Season for Scammers Targeting Elderly; How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

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It's that time of the year again when crooks are especially busy targeting older adults.

Scammers have become such a big problem the Dallas Police Department formed a unit focused on crimes targeting older north Texans.

Just this week, Dallas police commended alert bank tellers and DPD officers for saving a 76-year-old woman from becoming the victim of a scam.

The woman went to her bank and tried to withdraw $10,000, raising concern from bank workers given the lack of similar withdrawals previously, according to police.

“The teller thought this was unique in his withdrawals and that maybe he was being defrauded by an individual, so he quickly called 911,” said deputy chief Teena Schultz of DPD’s general investigations unit.

Police arrested a suspect in this case. It is one of about 250 similar crimes reported this year, according to DPD.

“Sadly, it happens all year round and it gets worse during the holidays because there’s more opportunity,” said Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs for the AARP.

A recent national survey found 75% of people said they have been targeted in at least one form of fraud tied to the holidays.

Scammers often seek out victims through online shopping or charitable donations.

“When older adults are targeted and they're victimized they lose so much more money because they have a lifetime of savings and maybe the social security check and the pension,” said Stokes. “They're sitting on money and the scammers know it.”

Scammers have become increasingly sophisticated and often clone legitimate websites, create fake ads and customer service numbers to trick shoppers.

Older adults are especially targeted through robocalls that are often placed simultaneously to thousands of people, warning them of issues with an order, she added.

“Once they get you on the phone, they’re just really good at what they do and you could lose thousands of dollars or more,” she said.

Stokes urges people to not be quick to answer phones calls that are not immediately identifiable.

“If you have a call coming in and you’re not absolutely sure that it’s your daughter or your doctor or your niece, let the machine pick it up,” said Stokes. “If there’s a message, you can listen to it with intent. Does this sound legit? Would the Social Security Administration really be calling me out of the blue?”

Playing the message or showing text messages or emails to a loved one is also a good idea, she said.

During a press conference this week, Dallas police created the ‘Elder Fraud Squad’ within the department’s financial investigations unit.

The squad’s goal will be to work with banks, financial institutions and residents, and focus on scammers who prey on the elderly.

DPD Deputy Chief Albert Martinez also urges family members with elderly loved ones to get involved to protect vulnerable residents from fraudsters.

“Talk to financial institutions,” said Martinez. “Are we on those accounts with them? Do we have power of attorney to safeguard the amount that can be withdrawn?”

Stokes says older adults often avoid becoming victims of fraud by simply talking to each other about cases where others were taken advantage of.

The AARP consumers should also be wary of payment options that have little or no fraud protection.

‘Peer-to-peer apps like Cash App, Zelle and Venmo are gaining popularity…but they do not offer fraud protection,’ states an AARP press release. ‘Avoid using these apps to make purchases from people or businesses you do not know.’

The organization reminds consumers that debit cards do not offer the same protections as credit cards in the event of fraud.

The AARP offers the AARP Fraud Watch Network which is a free resource that equips consumers with up-to-date knowledge to spot and avoid scams, and connects those targeted by scams with fraud helpline specialists who provide support and guidance on what to do next.

Anyone can also call the helpline at 877-908-3360.

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