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2024 | WINTER

Preventing Scams Against Georgia’s Elderly

iStock-1421329910-Senior and phone with lock password to protect data in online bank website. Old woman with smartphone. Cyber security and personal information safety and privacy from hacker fraud.

Dan Flynn

Article

2024 | WINTER

Preventing Scams Against Georgia’s Elderly

Dan Flynn

The number of financial scams against senior citizens continues to grow according to the FBI Elder Fraud Report of 2022 which shows that the total losses reported by elderly victims increased 84% from 2021. Meanwhile, elderly Georgians were particularly hard-hit with scams, at a rate faster than the national average. The worst part behind all the statistics is the human carnage created by ruthless professional scam artists. Elders are simply no match for scammers who are prolific in their evil craft of manipulation and theft and feel no remorse over leaving devastated elderly victims without their life savings while suffering with embarrassment, indignity, and despair.

To compound a bad situation, even if fraud is detected shortly after it occurs, chances of recovering stolen money or apprehending suspects are slim. Through no fault of their own, many police departments remain understaffed due to a lack of new applicants because of relentless political attacks on the police. Therefore, short-handed police departments must prioritize investigations of violent crimes over non-violent crimes, the latter of which, unfortunately, includes elder fraud cases. As the number of all financial crimes continues to grow, it far exceeds the capacity of local police to investigate fraud against elderly victims. Piles of police reports of terribly sad cases, requiring investigators with specialized financial crimes training, stack up never to be solved, or investigated at all.

Given the dismal scenario of elder scams today, the best community recourse is to teach seniors how to prevent themselves from becoming victims of fraud. That is easier said than done since training the elderly can be complicated, especially if it is conducted only online, by video training, or by distribution of publications. Elderly people, particularly those with memory impairment, are more likely to retain information from in-person sympathetic verbal and non-verbal human interaction. They respond best to being taught light-hearted, but common-sense prevention tips that are entertaining yet memorable.   

In today’s supercharged environment of internet and telecommunications fraud, there are volumes of different kinds of complex elder fraud schemes, but it is best to begin prevention instruction by using the KISS (keep it simple …) principle. Start at a very basic level using the simplest examples before moving on to the more complex. For example, a very common scam is the lottery scam in which a caller falsely informs the victim they have won a very large cash prize.  All they must do to collect their winnings is pay taxes or fees in advance. Of course, once they advance the money, they never hear from the caller again. So, it is best to explain the scam then give elders a simple prevention rule like: “You can’t win the lottery if you didn’t play.”

 

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Another old, but still successful, scam is known as the romance scam. The scammer cultivates an online relationship with an unsuspecting victim, sending false attractive photos then eventually suggesting a wonderful life together. The twist comes just before the two are to meet in person and sail off into the sunset. A false emergency comes up in which the suiter urgently needs money to resolve a problem before the two can meet.  The suiter suggests that if the victim sends the suiter the ostensibly needed money, they will be able to get together.  Of course, once the victim sends the money, they rarely hear from the caller again, as the stolen money rapidly bounces from one distant bank account to another until it is no longer tracible. The simple prevention rule: “In a new relationship, never give money to a someone you haven’t met in person.”

The examples are almost laughable, except scams against lonely elderly victims are very effective when they are perpetrated by trained professional criminals. In yet another example, the jury duty scam, a caller identifying themselves as a law enforcement officer tells the elderly victim they have failed to report for jury duty and the police are on their way to arrest them. The terrified embarrassed victim asks if there is any way to prevent being arrested and the caller tells them if they quickly send in fines or fees, they can prevent being arrested.  Of course, if they send the money, they rarely hear from the caller or anyone else again. The simple prevention tip: “The police never call ahead to tell you they are coming to arrest you for anything.”

The best thing to do to protect potential elderly victims from online fraud is to teach them to use common sense, even in emotionally tense situations. Numerous senior services organizations provide good training and viable tips, and all vulnerable seniors should receive it to stay safe in our increasingly predatory world.

Finally, never give up on restoring police departments to appropriate staffing levels with community support.  They are society’s best hope for future protection against mean heartless predators.

Dan Flynn

Dan Flynn

Chief Dan Flynn (Ret.) served as the Marietta Police Chief for 15 years. Prior to joining Marietta, he previously served as the Chief of the Savannah and Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Departments. He also moved up in the ranks of Miami-Dade Police Department served as a Major. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Public Administration as well as post-graduate certificates from the University of Miami and George Washington University.  Chief Flynn is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and Senior Management Institute for Police. 

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