Been the Victim of a Scam? The ReST Program Can Help!

You get a new text message from a number you’ve never seen before. It reads something like, “Hey is this Bonnie? It’s Steve. We chatted on a silver seniors dating site before when I came to visit my granddaughter, but we never met in real life. I’m back in town if you want to have coffee, are you free?”

You are tempted to reply, “wrong number.” What harm could there be in that? You want to help “Steve” find his “Bonnie” and for them to have a nice meeting. You decide to send a simple “sorry, wrong number” text back to “Steve” as a courtesy.  Before you even put down your phone, Steve is suddenly engaging you in conversation.

Even after you reply with a polite, “Sorry, wrong number,” message, the stranger responds anyway, seemingly ignoring your answer. Usually, you’ll receive a few compliments and some photos of “Steve,” who appears to be a nice looking, friendly man. However, as the word gets out about this scam, scammers will change up the names, backstory, and photos.

If you continue to engage with “Steve,” who is really a chatbot, it tries to trick you into registering for dating or adult websites. Your new “friend” will encourage you to sign up for a specific website to see more photos, which may involve offering up your credit card number. Considering the dubious nature of this scam, if you hand over your credit card information at any point, you are likely putting yourself at risk for fraudulent charges and identity theft.

How to Avoid Chatbot Scams                                    

The Better Business Bureau is warning that situations similar to the one described above are happening pretty often these days. These are some tips for avoiding being scammed in this way:

  • Ignore texts from strangers: If you receive a text from someone you don’t know, ignoring it and not replying is the safest route to go. If you engage with this type of scammer, even briefly, they will mark your number as “active,” and you could receive even more shady texts in the future.
  • Block numbers that appear to be scams: Sometimes your phone tells you that a number is spam or suspected spam. Other times, it doesn’t. When it comes to texts, you may not know. Remember, unsolicited texts that ask you to click on links should always be treated with suspicion and are generally not safe. Block these numbers to prevent scammers from contacting you through them again.
  • Never give your personal information to strangers: Never share your credit card or banking information, your full name, home address, Social Security number, or Medicare number with someone you don’t know.

 Popular Scams Targeting the Elderly

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) lists other scams that most commonly target seniors, as follows. These are a few of the top ones to watch out for:

  • Health Insurance Scams: These solicitors typically claim to be a Medicare representative, for example, and do the following:
    • Tell a senior that he or she needs a new Medicare card, and to be issued one, need to provide his or her Social Security number.
    • Ask an elderly person to contribute a fee to help navigate Medicare.
    • Gather personal information provided to bill Medicare and take the money for themselves.
  • Telemarketing Scams: Telemarketing scams are one of the most common scams to happen to the elderly, due to no face-to-face interaction and convincing charades of being an authority figure. Scammers may also get seniors’ money by representing themselves as IRS agents, investors; bank officials and/or family members. Scammers can hook seniors by pretending to offer:
    • free trials
    • extended warranties
    • can’t-miss investment opportunities
    • the chance to travel for cheap or free
    • incredible prizes
    • advance loans

The best way to prevent falling victim to any telemarketing scheme is to know that any legitimate financial institution or large corporation along with agencies, such as the IRS, will not call and ask for personal information over the phone.

  • Counterfeit Prescription Medications: Since many seniors are on a fixed income or living off retirement funds, it’s only natural that they are often on the lookout for cheaper drug alternatives to save money. Unfortunately, scammers are fully aware of this, and they prey on seniors’ vulnerability of wanting to save. Criminals use the internet to operate these scams, offering “better prices” on prescription medications that are counterfeit and often detrimental to one’s health. (Some counterfeit drugs have even been found to be lethal.) Older adults should only buy prescription drugs from reputable pharmacies.
  • Funeral Fraud: Sadly, there are con artists who try to take advantage of grieving widows and widowers at funerals. Con artists keep track of obituaries to find their targets and either show up at the funeral or get the contact information of the surviving family members to say the recently deceased had outstanding debts that must be paid off.
  • COVID-19 Scams: The COVID-19 pandemic gave scammers an opportunity to use new tactics to defraud seniors, including illegal robocalls, texts, emails, and social media posts. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission estimated that older adults lost at least $602 million to fraud, scams, and financial exploitation schemes and that seniors lost $100 million to COVID-19-related fraud, according to the 2021 Fraud Book from the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Although vaccines are now readily available, continue to be vigilant about COVID-19 related scams.

The ReST program Helps Address the Emotional Impact of Being Scammed

The AARP Fraud Watch Network ReST program was created with the Volunteers of America (VOA) to address the emotional impact of being scammed. Through the program, AARP and VOA offer free peer discussion groups that are led by a facilitator and seek to provide emotional support for victims and family members.

The ReST program is designed to help participants identify, discuss what happened and lessen the distress that arises when a person is victimized by a scam. Participants recognize that they are not alone and learn about moral distress, resilience, and coping strategies.

Have You Been Affected by a Scam?

Experiencing a scam can be devastating and have negative impacts well beyond the loss of money. Trained volunteer specialists through the ReST program who volunteer on the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline talk with tens of thousands of people each year who have suffered a financial loss from a scam and often learn about the resultant emotional wounds victims carry with them and can help. Learn more about the ReST program and sign up for a peer group here.

Report Scams to the FTC

If you were scammed or think you saw a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Fraud victims may file an online complaint with the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, or call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357), which is toll-free. Click here to learn more or to report a scam now. Please read our other articles about scams here.

Planning to Protect Loved Ones

Protecting seniors from scams is very important, which is why we continually share information about current scams and how you can protect yourself. It is also very important to plan for your future and for your loved ones. If you are elderly and worried about falling victim to a romance scam or any other scam, you should consider doing our Level 3 Planning, using a Living Trust Plus® with a trusted child as trustee so that you do not have direct access to “give away” all of your life savings. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact us to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888

Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435

Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041

DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

 

 

 

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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