Two new scams affecting older Americans

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Your residents could be the targets of two new scams announced by the federal government Feb. 10.

Global scams that turn older Americans into unwitting drug couriers were the focus of a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing. International cartels are recruiting older adults via email, with false promises of romance or money, to travel to foreign countries, said the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). The trips often involve complicated itineraries that have the traveler stopping more than once on the way to the final destination. At one of the stops on a trip, the older adult is given a package or suitcase in which drugs are hidden. If customs officials find the drugs, the victims can be sentenced to jail time.

In some foreign countries, criminal intent is not necessary to be convicted of a crime, said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), ranking committee member. Also, the trial process can be less transparent than it is in the United States, according to Scott Brown, acting assistant director of investigative programs for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, making it difficult for the government to keep track of cases.

Such schemes are thought to have ensnared more than 83 older Americans to date, Brown said, and 30 of them remain in overseas jails. The average age of victims is 59, he added, although one victim was 97.

Older adults are attractive targets for scammers, Collins said, because they can be trusting, because they may have declining cognitive abilities and because law enforcement officials may be less suspicious of them as they unknowingly carry out the scammers' drug transport plans. Brown added that elders often are lonely so welcome the attention that scammers pay them before the travel takes place.

A travel itinerary with multiple stops is one clue that a scam is under way. Another clue is that the travel arrangements are made and paid for by the scammers. The criminals often pose as U.S. government officials and tell victims not to trust others who claim to be working for the government.

Victims and potential victims can report schemers to the Senate Special Committee on Aging at 855-303-9470 or www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline. Tips also can be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 866-347-2423 or www.ice.gov/webform/hsi-tip-form.

Older adults who suspect that they have been targeted should change their email addresses and telephone numbers; scammers maintain lists of people who have fallen for schemes in the past and are likely to try to keep contacting people they believe they can exploit.

Asset recovery scams

In other action, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued an advisory about scams targeting older consumers who previously had been victims of fraudulent money-making schemes, such as bogus timeshare investments and in-home business opportunities.

In these scams, so-called asset recovery companies, which promise to obtain refunds for a substantial fee, fail to deliver promised services and leave consumers financially worse off than before.

Warning signs of the scam, according to the advisory, include an upfront request for fees to recover money, a charge to submit claims to a federal agency and requests of the victim not to seek information, support or advice from family members, friends or trusted advisers before making a financial transaction.

Those who believe they have been victimized should alert the affected bank or credit card company immediately, the CFPB advises. Scams should be reported to local law enforcement officials and to the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov. Those who have an issue with a financial product or service may submit a complaint to the CFPB at consumerfinance.gov/complaint.

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