August 22, 2019 by

You pick up the phone and you hear it: the familiar robocall offering you tickets for a cruise ship at a deeply discounted rate, or an automated message (supposedly from the IRS), saying out of the blue that you owe back taxes.

For many people, calls and emails like these are clearly a rip-off from first blush. But for others, including elderly adults or those diagnosed with degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, discerning the reality behind these scams can become complex.

Diane Hendricks, a licensed clinical social worker who is contracted to the Alzheimer’s Association, says adults 65 and older are often targeted because they’re assumed to already have a nest egg—a bit of money set aside. They tend to have good credit and may have predictable income because of social security pensions, Hendricks says. There may also be a generational difference in demeanor.

“They were brought up by being very trustful, not saying no, being very polite,” Hendricks says.

Margaret Schaefer, managing attorney of the centralized intake unit at Legal Aid of Nebraska,  says caregivers should keep an eye out for signs that someone has been taken advantage of. Look for changes in behavior, such as someone who has always balanced their checkbook to the penny who is now beginning to receive past-due notices, she says. They may become secretive, fearful, or demonstrate other changes in behavior.  It’s also possible that they may not initially recognize that they have been ripped off.

“So they’re sure if they just come up with that additional payment of $200 for the taxes, they’ll have a $1.5 million payout,” Schaefer says. “They don’t recognize that money is never coming.”

One way to avoid scams is by utilizing fraud-prevention features. Ryan Sothan, the outreach coordinator for the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, advocates for several features that caregivers can have installed on their loved one’s phone via their phone service. This can include features such as selective call acceptance, which allows the phone owner to build a list of accepted numbers to receive calls from. Call-blocking apps can be downloaded to cellphones. Seniors should also have up-to-date anti-virus software on their computers.

Sothan recommends caregivers educate the vulnerable adults around them about common signs of scams. He says many scam calls are offers “too good to be true, or too compelling to ignore.” There is also often a sense of urgency tied to a demand for immediate payment, he says. Folks should be cautious to avoid probes for personally identifying information. If someone calls asking what the name of your childhood pet was, they’re not just trying to be friendly—they may be trying to get information to hack your bank account.

To keep up to date on the latest information, seniors and their caregivers can attend a number of workshops and trainings. The Attorney General’s office offers a number of educational sessions, as does the Better Business Bureau, AARP, and other local organizations.

“One of the concerns we have is once somebody is a victim, then they are targeted,” Schaefer says.

After a scam, phone numbers and any other contact information that was used to take advantage of the person should be changed. But prevention is the best option, as recouping lost funds can be near impossible.

“Usually once the money has left your hands, it is generally not recoverable,” Schaefer says.


This article was printed in the 60+ section of the September 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.