Fraud alert: Identifying signs of financial abuse

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In 2020, the Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that victims ages 60 and older filed 791,790 complaints of fraud, totaling more than $4.1 billion in losses.

That’s $300 million more than the previous year in 2019, according to an IC3 report.

Credit and debit card fraud occurs when a person obtains access to a person’s accounts through misrepresentation or other means, like requesting personal information in turn for a sweepstakes prize, according to the Washington LawHelp website.

The people behind phone and email scams are extremely intelligent and extremely aggressive, Battle Ground Detective Neil Seifert said.

Scammers will say they represent widely-used companies, like Comcast or Chase, then try to convince the caller that there’s a problem with their account, Seifert said. The defrauders will spoof phone numbers to trick people into thinking it’s a local phone call.

The defrauders tend to use disasters, like the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes, to “tug at your heartstrings,” Seifert said.

“They’re very good at pretending to be who they’re not,” he said. “Most people realize that it’s a scam before they provide any information.”

It should be a red flag if someone starts to ask for personal information over the phone or email, Seifert said.

Scammers will make threats, like “we’re going to shut down your account,” in an attempt to keep you on the call for as long as possible, he said.

A legitimate company will never ask a customer to purchase Walmart gift cards, send a MoneyGram or go to the bank to get a money order, Seifert said.

Scammers will also use an autodialer, so if there’s a two to three-second pause and a click before someone starts speaking, it’s most likely a scam, he said.

If you do receive one of these calls, he suggests hanging up the phone then looking up the company’s phone number online to see if the claims are true. A scammer can also spoof a number when calling someone, but it doesn’t allow them to receive calls back.

One Battle Ground woman received an email stating she was the lucky winner of the lottery and she believed it.

The scammers demanded the older woman to pay $50,000 in taxes before she could collect her winnings. The woman, who was “in the onset of degrading, mentally,” went to Walmart and sent the cash via MoneyGram, Seifert said.

Then, a call came in that said she still had more fees to pay.

“At a certain point, they told her that she was going to be very famous,” Seifert said. “They told her to change her phone number, and only give them the number, which then isolated her from even contacting her family because they are that good at convincing people.”

The woman ended up sending over $360,000 to the scam group, Seifert said. The Battle Ground Police Department was able to recover only about $120,000 of the stolen funds.

“Embarrassment and guilt are feelings that often accompany being a victim of financial abuse,” stated an Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington news release. “These strong emotions play a role in the underreporting of this crime by older adults. No one wants to admit they have been taken advantage of.”

To prevent financial scams, family members can set up two-factor authentication for bank accounts, which notifies them of any large withdrawals, Seifert said. Limits on the amount of money withdrawn can also be set.

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