Unfortunately, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud. Scam artists are opportunists that exploit the fear, social isolation, and uncertainty fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an emotional time that makes us more vulnerable than ever. Seniors are especially vulnerable because they tend to be isolated, trusting, and polite. Many also have financial savings, a steady income source, and good credit—all of which make them attractive to scammers.
Senior Deputy District Attorney, Vicki Johnson, briefed us about some COVID-19 scams at our recent Senior Programs Advisory Council meeting. Here are some of the fraudulent schemes that Johnson shared:
Stimulus check scam—Criminals will try to solicit your personal information, even change your mailing address, in order to divert your stimulus check to them. They will try to convince you that they can speed up your stimulus check or ensure the funds are deposited directly. The criminals may also tell you that you need to pay a small fee to receive your check. According to Johnson, you should never divulge your personal information to those who have contacted you over the phone or via email.
Official-looking emails—Criminals pose as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or other official agencies and ask you to click on links. They create their emails to look identical to the official web pages. They may email you, informing you that you have been exposed to the virus and you need to download information. Often these links contain malware, which can infect your computer and steal your private information. Do not click on links you receive. This is not the way the CDC or other official agencies conduct business. If you have been exposed to the virus, contact tracers in Santa Barbara County will contact you by phone, not email, and they will not ask you for personal information.
Counterfeit treatments—Criminals solicit fake at-home test kits, offers for cures, vaccines, pills and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19. Any cures or treatments would be announced in the mainstream news. Always consult with your physician before beginning any COVID-19 treatment.
Sick relative—Criminals call or email you, posing as a relative, often a child or grandchild, and pretend to be sick and needing money to pay for testing or doctor’s bills. Always check with family members before doling out any funds.
Investment scam—Criminals ask you to invest in ground-breaking cures or treatments for coronavirus. Resist any pressure tactics, and always consult with a professional first before making an unsolicited investment.
Johnson also reported a high incidence of mailbox theft. Criminals are stealing mail out of neighborhood mailboxes as well as the big blue drop boxes in front of the post office or in parking lots. She suggested that mail be deposited inside a post office.
If you, or a loved one, has been affected by fraud, it is important to report it. You should call your local law enforcement, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office at 1-805-568-2442.
As an older adult, you may be less inclined to report fraud because you don’t know how, or you may feel ashamed at having been scammed. You might begin to doubt your ability to manage your financial affairs. Fraud can uproot your life, leaving you feeling victimized and insecure. These are normal feelings. The best way to move on from this type of trauma is to take steps toward recovery. Reporting the crime provides the first step towards empowering yourself.
Family Service Agency offers counseling support to those dealing with trauma from being defrauded.
More tips and information about these and other fraudulent schemes targeting older adults, is available at AARP’s website.
De Rosenberry is the Senior Service Program Manager at Family Service Agency (FSA), operating as Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center (SMVYFC) in Santa Maria and Little House By The Park (LHP) in Guadalupe.