Scams targeting our aging loved ones never seem to stop. Now that thieves can spoof the recipient of a call by showing a “real” number on caller ID, it’s easier than ever for them to intimidate your aging parent. The way this evil game works is this: the caller has your aging parent’s telephone number and knows your parent to be at least of Social Security age. They buy this data. The caller immediately tells your loved one in an authoritative voice that her Social Security number has been blocked. Of course, this draws the expected reaction from most people. What should I do? They are not going to question what it means to have the SS number “blocked” or if that is even possible.
The caller says it is urgent and that in order to “reactivate” the SS number, the elder must act immediately, or their Social Security benefits will be affected. As many depend on Social Security as part or all of what they live on in retirement, the urging creates fear, the caller’s desired effect on the older person. The scammer convincingly fakes concern and wants to “help”. All your aging parent has to do is pay a fee and the number will be unblocked, they’re told. Many elders have heard of identity theft and believe that this person is going to help them prevent unauthorized use of their SS number, because that is what they hear on the call. The caller then needs to “verify” the number and your aging loved one complies and recites the number. Instantly the number can be put into use any number of ways identify thieves have devised. And worse yet the elder pays them the “fee”.
Even if you believe with all your heart that YOUR aging loved one is not dumb and won’t fall for any of this, do not be so sure. Anyone can be caught off guard. Scammers are very clever at using fear and other strong emotions to manipulate unsuspecting aging parents to give up information without thinking about whether the request for it makes sense. You want to warn them. You want to remind them that they are never to give out any personal information like a SS number to a person they did not call themselves. Everyone’s Social Security numbers are potentially floating around in cyberspace enough as it is, without handing them to a telephone stranger who is lying to get them to pay money. You can warn your aging parents that the Social Security Administration will never ever call and ask anyone to verify the SS number. You can remind them that even if the caller ID shows something that looks real, it can be fake because spoofing software can show anything the scammers want it to show.
Social Security numbers on Medicare cards have enabled thefts of the numbers, though a new system may help, as these numbers will no longer be shown on Medicare cards. However, millions of elders are approached regularly by this scam and many others. My own mother-in-law, now passed, was very smart at fending off such phony calls and smelling a scam. But by age 95, that scam sensor she used to have in her head seemed to fade. One day a man called her landline and said he was from Medicare. He just wanted to confirm her Medicare number. She had an active Medicare claim going on at the time, and we were helping her address the details. Because she had that claim, she fell for the trick. She gave the caller her full name, address, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and her Social Security number. Fortunately we found out within a day and were able to jump into action to change all her accounts and credit cards. It took four months to straighten out the mess. The scammers got nothing. We got a lot of work, and had to take her to her banks and financial institutions in person to change everything. She felt bad because she was supposed to know better. Yes, but she forgot.
The takeaway here is that no one is immune from being tricked. With advanced age, your loved one might fall into a trap and give out information they should never give. Adult children need to stay in frequent contact and offer frequent warnings about the latest scams to even your very intelligent aging parents.
Here’s the takeaway:
Social Security, the court, the government or any official agency will NEVER call and pressure anyone for money. Just be aware that aging loved ones are vulnerable and keep reminding them of how often scammers target them. You could prevent a thief from getting anything.
If you are not sure your loved one will be able to spot a scam, as they have memory loss, you may need some guidance. Call us at 866-962-4464 to consult about your aging parent issues. We’re here at AgingParents.com to relieve your stress now about the legal, healthcare and emotional issues you have in your family.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com