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Is this a scam? Tips to identify fraud schemes and how to get help

'Grandson scam' among types of fraud used to manipulate older adults

The Palo Alto Police Department has received 43 reports of fraud or abuse of victims ages 65 and older over the last year. Courtesy Getty Images.

Your utilities are about to be cut off. Your grandson is in serious trouble. Delivery of your medication has been held up.

Scammers targeting older adults are experts at throwing their victims off balance by presenting urgent situations that can be solved only by the immediate transfer of cash.

"People make poor decisions when time pressure is imposed, so scammers create a sense of urgency," acting Palo Alto Police Capt. James Reifschneider said.

In moments of emotional stress, people get conned every day, he told this news organization.

"There's a misconception that those who fall for this are unsophisticated or uniquely foolish, but the reality is that people of means, people of education, people who are very, very sharp people of all ages fall for this because the scammers are very, very good at their job — pulling at heartstrings, manipulating. This is a craft they have polished," he said.

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Since 2019, the number of reported elder fraud cases in Palo Alto has gone up: Palo Alto police received 43 reports of fraud or abuse of victims 65 and over last year, up from 42 in 2020 and 21 in 2019, said Reifschneider, adding that he believes such incidents are "vastly underreported."

Nationally, 92,371 people over age 60 lost nearly $1.7 billion to elder fraud last year, according to the FBI's 2021 Elder Fraud Report. The dollar losses were up 74% over 2020. The average loss per victim was $18,246, and 3,133 people lost more than $100,000. California reported 12,951 victims over age 60 — the highest number in the nation, according to the FBI report.

The types of fraud highlighted in the report include romance scams, investment fraud, government impersonation and tech support fraud.

Reifschneider said the "grandson scam" also is among those scammers use to manipulate older adults. A caller pretending to be the person's grandson will initiate a brief call suggesting an emergency, such as an arrest.

"The grandma might feel embarrassed that she did not immediately recognize her grandson's voice, and already they're tugging at her heartstrings," Reifschneider said. "They'll frequently tell the grandparent, 'The reason I'm calling you is I know I can trust you, and I don't want Mom and Dad to know.' When a grandparent is told by someone they believe to be their grandchild, 'I have this special relationship with you,' it's very flattering, and it perpetuates the trust on the call, and makes the grandparent feel more inclined to cooperate," he said.

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The troubling conversation with the "grandson" is intentionally brief, to avoid detection, before the call is handed over to someone else identified as a police officer, attorney or bail bondsman, who then walks the victim through the payment process.

When victims realize they've been taken in, they feel foolish, embarrassed and often choose not to report the fraud, he said.

Sometimes there also is a fear among older adults that their children or grandchildren will conclude that their faculties are fading and will push to reduce their independence.

"One might think, 'I wouldn't fall for this — I'd recognize my grandchild's voice if he called me,'" Reifschneider said. "But I'll tell you that scammers wouldn't engage in this type of thing if it didn't work."

While the elderly certainly are targeted, the truth is that these types of scams happen to people of all ages, Reifschneider said. Scammers might be making dozens or hundreds of calls to find one victim.

"You don't have to be successful very often in order for it to be lucrative," he said.

The Palo Alto Police Department website describes some of the most common scams — including telemarketing schemes, credit card fraud, IRS, utility and grandson scams — and steps people can take to protect themselves.

Scammers are rarely caught and prosecuted, Reifschneider said, adding that the constant changing of phone numbers from which they call makes it difficult for police to write search warrants.

Technology allows scammers to mimic local phone numbers while calling from anywhere. They also employ "spoofing" products to make it appear the phone call came from the police or utilities department. "Do not rely on your caller ID to validate who's calling you — that's unfortunately a technological issue that's out there," he said.

He advises people to be leery of any unsolicited phone call from a business or person asking for money on the spot.

'There's a misconception that those who fall for this are unsophisticated or uniquely foolish, but the reality is that ... very sharp people of all ages fall for this because the scammers are very, very good at their job.'

-James Reifschneider, acting police captain, Palo Alto Police Department

Reifschneider suggests people not answer calls from numbers they don't recognize. Legitimate callers will leave a voicemail, he said.

"Any time someone is pressuring you to make a decision or provide personal information by creating some sense of urgency, that's a red flag," he said. "They're trying to force you into a bad decision by making it an emergency."

Scam victims frequently tell police they had an instinct that the situation wasn't right, but fought the feeling because of time pressure or emotional manipulation, he said.

"Follow your instincts, even if it's just insisting on taking a time out so you can ask your spouse or family member, or contact the police department," he said.

Police will take reports of fraud and investigate leads, if there are any, he said. They also can forward cases to other jurisdictions, including federal agencies such as the FBI, the Secret Service and the Postal Inspection Service.

The federally maintained Internet Crime Complaint Center, at ic3.gov, allows victims to report an incident, which is then screened and forwarded to the appropriate agency.

Since arrests and prosecutions of scammers is difficult, public education on how people can avoid becoming a victim is key, Reifschneider said.

Fraud schemes

Romance Scam: Scammers pose as interested romantic partners through dating websites to capitalize on victims' desire to find companions.

Tech Support Scam: Scammers pose as technology support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues — gaining remote access to victims' devices.

Grandparent Scam: Scammers pose as a relative claiming to be in immediate dire financial need.

Government Impersonation Scam: Scammers pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.

Sweepstakes/Charity/Lottery Scam: Scammers claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims' trust. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can collect for a "fee."

Home Repair Scam: Scammers appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide.

TV/Radio Scam: Scammers target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services, such as reverse mortgages or credit repair.

Family/Caregiver Scam: Scammers are relatives or acquaintances of the victims and take advantage of them or otherwise get their money.

Who to contact

Internet or financial fraud - FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: ic3.gov

Any person aged 60 or older who has fallen victim to some type of financial fraud or internet scheme, can file a report with the FBI.

Phone scams - Palo Alto Police Department: cityofpaloalto.org | 650-329-2413

Adults who have fallen victim to a phone scam in Palo Alto can call or file an online report with the Police Department.

For emergencies or to report a crime in progress, call 911.

— Fraud scheme information provided by the FBI

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Is this a scam? Tips to identify fraud schemes and how to get help

'Grandson scam' among types of fraud used to manipulate older adults

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Fri, Jul 1, 2022, 6:59 am

Your utilities are about to be cut off. Your grandson is in serious trouble. Delivery of your medication has been held up.

Scammers targeting older adults are experts at throwing their victims off balance by presenting urgent situations that can be solved only by the immediate transfer of cash.

"People make poor decisions when time pressure is imposed, so scammers create a sense of urgency," acting Palo Alto Police Capt. James Reifschneider said.

In moments of emotional stress, people get conned every day, he told this news organization.

"There's a misconception that those who fall for this are unsophisticated or uniquely foolish, but the reality is that people of means, people of education, people who are very, very sharp people of all ages fall for this because the scammers are very, very good at their job — pulling at heartstrings, manipulating. This is a craft they have polished," he said.

Since 2019, the number of reported elder fraud cases in Palo Alto has gone up: Palo Alto police received 43 reports of fraud or abuse of victims 65 and over last year, up from 42 in 2020 and 21 in 2019, said Reifschneider, adding that he believes such incidents are "vastly underreported."

Nationally, 92,371 people over age 60 lost nearly $1.7 billion to elder fraud last year, according to the FBI's 2021 Elder Fraud Report. The dollar losses were up 74% over 2020. The average loss per victim was $18,246, and 3,133 people lost more than $100,000. California reported 12,951 victims over age 60 — the highest number in the nation, according to the FBI report.

The types of fraud highlighted in the report include romance scams, investment fraud, government impersonation and tech support fraud.

Reifschneider said the "grandson scam" also is among those scammers use to manipulate older adults. A caller pretending to be the person's grandson will initiate a brief call suggesting an emergency, such as an arrest.

"The grandma might feel embarrassed that she did not immediately recognize her grandson's voice, and already they're tugging at her heartstrings," Reifschneider said. "They'll frequently tell the grandparent, 'The reason I'm calling you is I know I can trust you, and I don't want Mom and Dad to know.' When a grandparent is told by someone they believe to be their grandchild, 'I have this special relationship with you,' it's very flattering, and it perpetuates the trust on the call, and makes the grandparent feel more inclined to cooperate," he said.

The troubling conversation with the "grandson" is intentionally brief, to avoid detection, before the call is handed over to someone else identified as a police officer, attorney or bail bondsman, who then walks the victim through the payment process.

When victims realize they've been taken in, they feel foolish, embarrassed and often choose not to report the fraud, he said.

Sometimes there also is a fear among older adults that their children or grandchildren will conclude that their faculties are fading and will push to reduce their independence.

"One might think, 'I wouldn't fall for this — I'd recognize my grandchild's voice if he called me,'" Reifschneider said. "But I'll tell you that scammers wouldn't engage in this type of thing if it didn't work."

While the elderly certainly are targeted, the truth is that these types of scams happen to people of all ages, Reifschneider said. Scammers might be making dozens or hundreds of calls to find one victim.

"You don't have to be successful very often in order for it to be lucrative," he said.

The Palo Alto Police Department website describes some of the most common scams — including telemarketing schemes, credit card fraud, IRS, utility and grandson scams — and steps people can take to protect themselves.

Scammers are rarely caught and prosecuted, Reifschneider said, adding that the constant changing of phone numbers from which they call makes it difficult for police to write search warrants.

Technology allows scammers to mimic local phone numbers while calling from anywhere. They also employ "spoofing" products to make it appear the phone call came from the police or utilities department. "Do not rely on your caller ID to validate who's calling you — that's unfortunately a technological issue that's out there," he said.

He advises people to be leery of any unsolicited phone call from a business or person asking for money on the spot.

Reifschneider suggests people not answer calls from numbers they don't recognize. Legitimate callers will leave a voicemail, he said.

"Any time someone is pressuring you to make a decision or provide personal information by creating some sense of urgency, that's a red flag," he said. "They're trying to force you into a bad decision by making it an emergency."

Scam victims frequently tell police they had an instinct that the situation wasn't right, but fought the feeling because of time pressure or emotional manipulation, he said.

"Follow your instincts, even if it's just insisting on taking a time out so you can ask your spouse or family member, or contact the police department," he said.

Police will take reports of fraud and investigate leads, if there are any, he said. They also can forward cases to other jurisdictions, including federal agencies such as the FBI, the Secret Service and the Postal Inspection Service.

The federally maintained Internet Crime Complaint Center, at ic3.gov, allows victims to report an incident, which is then screened and forwarded to the appropriate agency.

Since arrests and prosecutions of scammers is difficult, public education on how people can avoid becoming a victim is key, Reifschneider said.

Romance Scam: Scammers pose as interested romantic partners through dating websites to capitalize on victims' desire to find companions.

Tech Support Scam: Scammers pose as technology support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues — gaining remote access to victims' devices.

Grandparent Scam: Scammers pose as a relative claiming to be in immediate dire financial need.

Government Impersonation Scam: Scammers pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.

Sweepstakes/Charity/Lottery Scam: Scammers claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims' trust. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can collect for a "fee."

Home Repair Scam: Scammers appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide.

TV/Radio Scam: Scammers target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services, such as reverse mortgages or credit repair.

Family/Caregiver Scam: Scammers are relatives or acquaintances of the victims and take advantage of them or otherwise get their money.

Internet or financial fraud - FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: ic3.gov

Any person aged 60 or older who has fallen victim to some type of financial fraud or internet scheme, can file a report with the FBI.

Phone scams - Palo Alto Police Department: cityofpaloalto.org | 650-329-2413

Adults who have fallen victim to a phone scam in Palo Alto can call or file an online report with the Police Department.

For emergencies or to report a crime in progress, call 911.

— Fraud scheme information provided by the FBI

Chris Kenrick can be emailed at [email protected]

Comments

Rhonda Peters
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jul 1, 2022 at 3:45 pm
Rhonda Peters, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jul 1, 2022 at 3:45 pm

• Family/Caregiver Scam: Scammers are relatives or acquaintances of the victims and take advantage of them or otherwise get their money.

This type of elder fraud/abuse is very difficult to pursue because conservatorship-related trust assets and real property are often under the control of a court-appointed conservator and any/all disputes are considered a civil matter to be addressed in probate court.

And in many of these cases, the family assets are being administered by an unscrupulous private professional fiduciary or a greedy family member serving as trustee/conservator of the disabled elder's personal and financial affairs.

The key is for elder citizens to avoid or resist conservatorships at all costs because it is essentially a legalized license to steal.

How to avoid? Prior to being diagnosed as mentally incapacitated, draw up a Power of Attorney designating a trusted individual to personally carry out your wishes in the event of dementia, Alzheimer's, or a debilitating stroke.

This legal measure must be taken BEFORE you are deemed mentally disabled and is invalid if pursued after the fact (e.g. a medical diagnosis of mental incapacity).

The other scams can easily be avoided with common sense and good judgement.


Paul Jessup
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jul 2, 2022 at 9:45 am
Paul Jessup, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jul 2, 2022 at 9:45 am

Elder Conservatorships are a legalized racket designed to deplete family assets including real estate holdings.

It is a very predatory business and best avoided if possible.

Probate attorneys and professional fiduciaries are actively involved in the process/scheme...lawyers by racking up questionable billable hours and conservators (oftentimes a professional fiduciary or family member serving as a trustee/conservator) by racking up questionable expenses.

There are others involved as well including refinance and foreclosure real estate agents.

The target zone is generally focused on family estates worth $2 million or more (including home property) and given the high cost of residencies in the midpeninsula and elsewhere, this dollar amount is easily reached.

Don't fall prey to this one. The other noted scams can be easily avoided by not responding to them.


Chuck Buhle
Registered user
Midtown
on Jul 2, 2022 at 1:08 pm
Chuck Buhle, Midtown
Registered user
on Jul 2, 2022 at 1:08 pm

Wrongful conservatorships are something that every senior with a sizeable estate should be aware of.

Do not trust anyone (e.g. probate lawyers, avaricious family members, or probate judges etc.) to protect your best interests because they all have a vested interest in ripping you off.


Palo Alto native
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2022 at 3:14 pm
Palo Alto native, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jul 3, 2022 at 3:14 pm

I fell for a scam two years ago and lost quite a bit of money. It was quite sophisticated, but I did fall for it. The Palo Alto police department set an investigator out, but nothing actually came of it. I really felt that the police department could have passed on all this information to other authorities so that other people would not fall for the scam. I felt the police department did not do a good job and should’ve had a contact in the FBI for international scammers from India getting through the Internet/phone lines. Also Bank of America should revise some of their procedures!


Cameron Locke
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jul 3, 2022 at 3:47 pm
Cameron Locke, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jul 3, 2022 at 3:47 pm

It is very difficult to pursue consumer fraud emanating out of foreign countries (e.g. India, Nigeria etc.).

Common sense dictates to be wary of outside solicitors who speak with a 3rd world accent or improper English.


Julia Withers
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jul 4, 2022 at 10:19 am
Julia Withers, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jul 4, 2022 at 10:19 am

Older people are more prone to these scams because their thought processes have diminished.

Loneliness is another consideration as these scammers also give them someone to talk to.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2022 at 11:01 am
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 4, 2022 at 11:01 am

Legitimate entities do not help by being seemingly unaware of how scammers take advantage, for example, making a response only possible by clicking on a box without providing a direct way of reaching the URL via a trusted site. Nextdoor does that but they are not alone. I am still waiting for a response to find out if a cable survey from Tom Dubois is legit. It’s frustrating how these scammers interfere with ordinary life that way.

I once ordered some items from a Swiss company that ships internationally. I was called by a rude local shipping company I didn’t recognize (when I looked them up they had such low ratings, it seemed a scam), who didn’t offer specifics but told me to give them my personal info or they would send the items back to “Germany.” It sounded like a scam so I ignored it. I never got an email from customer service. Just in case, I reached out directly and provided the info that way. But it was already too late.

Another one that isn’t mentioned above but really should be in the current political environment is elder scams of people on rightwing political lists. Liz Cheney laid out a pretty clear roadmap of how Trunp and his orbit used aggressive, specific claims, in this case of voter fraud in the 2020 election, as cover. The Justice department (under very rightwing Republicans) investigated promptly and seriously, and found none to be credible.

But Trunp kept making the claims which continued to be amplified on rightwing networks. The result is that a large percent of Republicans still believe it, and Trunp used this to raise over $250 million for an election defense fund that didn’t exist. Some of the money has since been funneled to his hotels.

From what I can tell, they are still plying older people. selling products and ginning up their beliefs of made-up Trunp and rightwing victimhood to shake down these elderly who sometimes are even estranged from family by this longtime disinformation.

How to follow up?



Mark Jacobs
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jul 4, 2022 at 11:30 am
Mark Jacobs, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jul 4, 2022 at 11:30 am

@Citizen
To blame Donald Trump for bad purchasing decisions made by senior citizens borders on the absurd.

By exercising common sense, these scams targeting elders can be easily prevented.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 6, 2022 at 10:18 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jul 6, 2022 at 10:18 pm

In posted Public Letters to the Palo Alto City Council — the city is posting scam letter from all part of the world. The scammers are asking the city for money or inviting the city to claim inheritance payouts. Is paid city staff not vetting letters or is this nepherious nature? The senders are pleading as if they are in distress. I have gotten such in my email in box. Is the legally bound to publish scam letters? Really important public comment letters to council are buried among these scam letters, making public discourse difficult and cumbersome to follow.


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