Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., NBC 4 New York (WNBC), Telemundo 47 New York (WNJU), ARC XVI Fort Washington and Riverstone Senior Centers in Washington Heights are partnering to host Senior Scam Prevention Week. The purpose of the week-long campaign, which began on Thursday, December 10th and runs through Thursday, December 17th, is to increase awareness about common financial scams targeting seniors, and provide tips to help seniors and their loved ones prevent victimization. Senior Scam Prevention Week will feature daily segments airing on NBC 4 New York’s 5:30 p.m. newscast and Telemundo 47 New York’s 5:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. newscasts about common scams targeting seniors in Manhattan. It also includes an English and Spanish-language PSA, and will conclude with an event at Riverstone Senior Center in Washington Heights.
“In recent months, we’ve seen an increase in the number of financial scams targeting the senior population,” said District Attorney Vance. “It’s incredibly important that children, grandchildren, and anyone with seniors in their lives talk to them about common scams and how to prevent becoming a victim.
“I thank our partners for their assistance in educating the public about these frauds. It is our hope that Senior Scam Prevention Week will not only prevent future crimes, but will lead to increased reporting of past incidents. I strongly encourage anyone who believes that he or she may have been the victim of this type of fraud to call my Office’s Elder Abuse Hotline at 212-335-9007.”
“Seniors are among the most vulnerable to scams – they remember the trust of a handshake. As schemes get more sophisticated via phone and via internet, seniors need to know both the strengths of new technology and the risks. We are pleased that our community is coming together to shine light on the ways seniors may run into scams and is working to provide the tools for them to recognize and resist a wide variety of scams,” said Laura Ruiz, Riverstone Senior Center Program Director.
“The inherent sense of honesty in our citizenry makes fertile ground for insidious and larcenous deeds. We cannot allow unscrupulous individuals to prey upon our senior community: engendering fear, dis-empowerment and financial devastation as they plunder and eviscerate our seniors,” said Diana L. Nobile-Hernandez, Assistant Executive Director, ARC XVI Fort Washington.
Top Scams Targeting Seniors:
• Lottery – Victims are informed that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind, and that they will need to make a payment to unlock their prize. Often, scammers will ask for credit card information or payment by phone.
• Grandparent – Scammers will place a call to a senior. When the victim answers, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi, Grandma. Do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses a grandchild of theirs, the scammer has established a fake identity, which they use to extort money. In a similar version of this scam, perpetrators tell the victim that their grandchild has been arrested abroad and they are unable to reach their parents to pay the bail. This scam requires a perpetrator with some inside knowledge of the victim’s family.
• IRS – A caller claims to be collecting a past-due debt, often from a utility company, the IRS, or as settlement for a car accident. Victims are threatened with the loss of utilities, possible deportation, or prosecution if they don’t make immediate payment, sometimes from a pre-paid card.
• Evil Spirits – Perpetrators target older victims, often Chinese, convincing them that they are cursed by evil spirits and offering to cure them by “cleansing” their valuable possessions, including cash and jewelry. The scammers then make off with the cash and jewelry.
• Family Members/Aides – According to the National Council on Aging, 90% of all reported crimes against seniors are committed by their own family members. Similarly, a high number of thefts, abuse and scams are committed by aides hired to assist and care for seniors.
• Charity – This scam involves phone solicitors who claim to represent a charitable organization, such as a police foundation or group supporting natural disaster victims, by accepting “donations” under false pretenses.
• Healthcare/Medicare – Perpetrators pose as an insurance representative offering non-legitimate services for seniors at makeshift mobile clinics if they provide their personal information. The scammers then use the information to submit a bill for false services and pocket the money.
• Deception Burglary – Scammers working in pairs impersonate utility or contracted workers conducting a safety check of water, electricity, or gas. Once inside the victim’s home, one perpetrator distracts the victim while the other steals property.
• Investment – From high-level Ponzi schemes to emails from far-away princes that need help unlocking their fortune, investment scams are incredibly varied and prominent in senior communities. They are generally perpetrated via phone, mail, and email.
• Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage – Perpetrators involved in this predatory lending scam offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title of a victim’s property. Often these perpetrators don’t own the home they offer or fail to pay, leaving victims of the scam homeless.
DA Vance’s Tips to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones:
• Never give out financial or personal information to anyone who contacts you unsolicited.
• Be wary of callers who demand immediate payment for any reason.
• If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Never be afraid to ask for a second opinion or more information.
• Request to verify the employment of any worker who asks to enter your home.
• Be suspicious of anyone who claims you have won a contest or lottery that you don’t remember entering.
• Never wire money, provide debit, credit card, or bank account numbers to someone you do not know.
• Legitimate utility companies and government agencies will never demand payment in the form of a pre-paid card.
• Family members should be vigilant when hiring caregivers for seniors. They should monitor bank accounts and credit card bills for unusual spending and be on the lookout for any signs of physical abuse.
• Anyone who believes that he or she may be or know a victim of elder abuse should call the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Elder Abuse Hotline at 212-335-9007.