Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ February 2021

For Your Awareness

Of a Certain Age?  Don’t Fall Victim to ‘Elder Fraud’

By Jay Santiago

Recently, an older American who resides in our neighborhood received a phone call from someone claiming to work for a local utility company.  The caller stated that, since the resident had not responded to several letters regarding the replacement of an outdated “meter,” the company was calling to follow-up.  Purportedly, the utility company sought to replace the resident’s outdated meter because it was a fire hazard and could catch fire at any moment.  In order to proceed, however, the utility company required an upfront payment of $495 and asked for a debit or credit card number to order the parts “from their warehouse.”

Noting the hesitation in the resident’s voice, the caller volunteered a call back number and provided a reference number.  A family member called the number and spoke to another representative who confirmed the first caller’s information.  The unlikely scenario of having to front the money over the phone prompted the family member to terminate the call.  She then contacted the utility company directly who confirmed that it was fraud.

Fraud schemes targeting older Americans account for more than $3 billion dollars in losses annually (see FBI elder fraud website).  Seeking the most vulnerable, scammers continually prey upon our older Americans.  In perhaps one of the most notable enforcement actions against these scammers, on 28 October 2020, United States Attorney Erica H. McDonald for the District of Minnesota announced indictments charging 60 defendants for a $300 million nationwide magazine subscription scheme targeting the elderly.  These defendants were located in 14 U.S. States and two Canadian Provinces.

“Unfortunately, we live in a world where fraudsters are willing to take advantage of seniors, who are often trusting and polite,” said U.S. Attorney McDonald (read story here).

According to court documents, victims having one or more magazine subscription were offered subscription renewals at a reduced cost.  However, instead of renewals, victims were tricked into “signing up for entirely new magazines, which they did not want and often could not afford.”  Shamefully, the defendants traded lists of potential victims amongst themselves, resulting in multiple calls and unwanted subscriptions.  One Maryland victim paid between $400 and $1,000 per month on unwanted magazine subscriptions.

Unfortunately, this is not the only type of scam fraudsters employ.  Here are other common schemes targeting older Americans:

Despite this growing trend, local and Federal authorities are fighting back.  On 3 March 2020, the Justice Department announced “the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history,” charging over 400 defendants engaged in financial fraud schemes targeting the elderly (read story here).

To avoid falling victim to these scams, the Federal Trade Commission lists the following four signs that the call is a scam:

  1. Scammers pretend to be from an organization you know, like the Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service, a utility company, or charitable organization.
  2. Scammers say there is a problem and money is owed, someone in the family had an emergency, or there is a virus on your computer.
  3. Scammers pressure you to act immediately.
  4. Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way.

To avoid falling victim, the FTC recommends you:

  1. Block unwanted calls and text messages.
  2. Do not give personal or financial information, especially over the phone, in response to a request that you did not expect.  Remember, a legitimate organization will not call, email, or text requesting personal information or money.
  3. Resist the pressure to act immediately.
  4. Never pay anyone who insists you pay with a gift card or by using a money transfer service and never deposit a check or send money to anyone whose identity has not been verified.
  5. Before taking any action regarding the call, talk to a friend or family member and research the information provided by the caller.

The Justice Department also launched the National Elder Fraud Hotline that is staffed by experts who can assist callers by completing a complaint form with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and also submit a consumer complaint to the FTC on behalf of the caller.  The Hotline’s toll-free number is 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).

[Jay Santiago is a pseudonym for a former local police officer now in federal law enforcement.]   ■

   © 2021 NFCCA  [Source:]