My morning routine includes driving to work and listening to The Bert Show, which, if you’re not familiar. is a morning talk show that covers celebrity gossip, local news, and even real life problems such as cheating allegations. The hosts, Bert, Kristen and Jeff, may not cover the more serious issues facing us today, but what they have to say is usually lighthearted, silly, and sometimes, even enlightening. They once had a segment called “The Fried Chicken Wars.”
One morning as I was driving to work, Kristen, the quirky Kentucky native, started talking about an elderly woman who was scammed for a huge sum of money. The scammers convinced the poor woman she was living a dream, that she had won a lottery worth millions of dollars. Unfortunately, she was completely blind to what was actually happening. Intrigued, I immediately turned up the volume.
Grandma Gets Scammed Out of a Six-Figure Sum
This particular scandal didn’t surprise me. I read headlines in the news all the time about scam artists taking advantage of vulnerable people: the elderly, the handicapped or disabled, and children. I pay more attention than ever before to fraud now that I work for an ethics and compliance company.
In this particular incident, I could not help but picture my 78 year old grandmother being deceived by people she thought she could trust and my heart just melted. Here’s the background: a woman named Natalie called the radio station, and told them the story of her grandmother, who got scammed for $150,000 over the course of three years. Her grandmother was well into her 80’s, a perfect example of someone who is considered vulnerable because of her age.
According to a FBI report on Common Fraud Schemes, people who grew up in the 1930s or 1940s generally were raised to be polite and trusting, making them easy targets for con artists.
A group of people believed to be based in Jamaica had called the grandmother convincing her that she had won the Jamaican lottery. Keep in mind that she had never entered in the Jamaican lottery prior to this point. The con artists told her that in order to receive her winnings, they needed the money allocated from the taxes on the lottery winnings first, before they could send her the final amount.
She must have thought it was like Ed McMahon had called her, because she did exactly what she was instructed to do. She began to send money – thousands of dollars – to Jamaica, each year, with the notion that she would eventually receive her lottery winnings. This financial scam went unreported for three years until her family took notice and stopped it.
This scam is not the first of its kind. It reminds me of what are now commonly referred to as Nigerian scams, (because the first of these scams was believed to originate in Nigeria). People would receive offers via email or phone calls from strangers telling them sad stories of people in foreign countries who were dying and in need of outside aid or asking for investments in phony businesses. They convinced individuals to send them money and of course, once it was sent, the scammers would pocket it!
Information Security Training Helps the Vulnerable Protect Themselves
The National Council on Aging considers financial scams targeting seniors to be “the crime of the 21st century.” According to the article, financial scams target seniors the most because a) they’re more vulnerable and b) they often have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts. Because seniors do have access to a large amount of money in retirement funds, pensions, or Social Security deposits, it becomes important for seniors to partake in information security training.
Seniors today are at a disadvantage because everything is internet or mobile based. As technology advances, more and more hacking opportunities and security risks present themselves. Hackers can remotely take control of your computer and steal credit card data, online account passwords and other personal information.
Look at the recent high profile data breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus. Personal information that might have been secure a few years ago is susceptible to possible data breaches today. I don’t know about yours, but my grandmother is very active on the internet. At 78 years old, she does her banking online and even gets on Facebook from time to time. Her account information could be hacked if she is not careful about her personal information being secure.
Make sure that the vulnerable people in your life bookmark the FBI Common Fraud Schemes page and are aware of internet best practices. Teach Grandma not to give her passwords, banking information, personal information, or, most importantly, money to anyone. She can call the local Better Business Bureau or even the FBI to research a company’s or non-profit’s standing.
What’s terrifying is that any stolen sums of money are often impossible to recover. $150,000 is no small sum to lose, but even smaller amounts can be devastating to a retired individual.