TAHLEQUAH — In this day and age, people can’t be too careful when it comes to handling confidential information, because criminals will go to great lengths to get their hands on bank account numbers, Social Security numbers and more.
To give senior citizens the information they need to protect themselves from scammers, a Senior Fraud Conference was held at Go Ye Village Wednesday.
“This is a population who is on a fixed income,” said Ray Walker, divisional director for the Medicare Assistance Program at the Oklahoma Insurance Department. “So they are stuck with trying to meet their financial needs with what they’ve got.”
There are several means by which fraud can be perpetrated, including Medicare, insurance, investments and banking.
Medical identity theft is one of the fastest-growing types. Scammers can get personal Medicare information by stealing it via a wallet or purse, claiming to be providing free services, impersonating medical providers, and even dumpster diving.
Walker said people with Medicare are most at risk for identity theft, partly because Social Security numbers are still included on Medicare cards.
“If they get ahold of that Medicare card, it’s a two-for[-one],” he said. “Medicare is the biggest payer in insurance claims in the country. Think about it. There are 58 million Medicare beneficiaries. That’s a lot of money in that trust fund. So they want to get into that, because that’s the deep pocket. But at the same time, I’ve got this person’s Social Security number. Let’s see what they’ve got in their savings account.”
Walker said that when “bad guys” get into those savings accounts, the effect is devastating, because they have no way to replenish it.
Another senior-targeting scam focuses on the “distressed grandchild.” The scheme usually starts with a grandparent’s receiving a frantic call from someone believed to be a grandchild.
“‘Billy, is that you?’” said Paul Boyd, of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, describing how the conversation goes. “‘You sound funny.’ ‘I was in a car wreck and broke my nose, so I’ll let you talk to my lawyer.’ Then the guy proceeds to explain that Billy went to Mexico for spring break, got drunk and had a wreck. Now he’s in jail and needs bond money. ‘Oh, and don’t tell dad, because he’ll kill me.’”
Boyd said that’s a pretty common scenario, and seniors often give in, wasting thousands of dollars.
Another way folks can be ripped off is through home repair fraud. Boyd said in one scheme, the caller offers to lay asphalt on driveways. Scammers will offer victims a “good price” for repaving their driveways for “$40 a square.”
“I don’t know what a square of asphalt is, but it’s not any unit of measurement I’ve seen,” said Boyd.
Then after the work is done, scammers will pressure their victims and tell them they now owe $4,000, or else the police will be called.
“And people do it,” said Boyd. “Three days later, when it rains, they find out that what they really did was spray their driveway with used motor oil and a little used gravel. They don’t have even $50 worth of material on it, but they got $4,000 out of it.”
Many people may believe seniors are targeted more often due to decline in cognition, but Walker said nothing could be further from the truth.
“Most seniors are just as cognitive as they were 20 years ago,” he said. “The reason that these bad guys go after them is because that’s the money. Their kids are gone, and they’ve had more time to save up their money. That’s the deep pockets.”