Senior Scams and Preventions
Art Maines is a Licensed Professional Counselor and expert in frauds and scams against the elderly. Art is the author of Scammed: 3 Steps to Help Your Elder Parents and Yourself. A must listen to if you want to help prevent a loved one get scammed.
Frank: I'm your host, Frank Samson, thanks for joining us. We have a guest that I've interviewed in the past. He has a wealth of information. His name is Art Maines. Art is a Licensed Professional Counselor and expert in frauds and scams against the elderly. Art is the author of "Scam: 3 Steps To Help Your Elderly Parents & Yourself." He'll discuss a little bit about the book and how you could get it, but he's also a speaker on elderly fraud prevention and recovery at both the state and national levels. He had spoken for four years in a row at the Missouri National Association of Social Workers Symposium, and recently presented at the national conferences for the National Association of Social Workers in Washington, D.C. and Cambridge Financial Research in Scottsdale, AZ. He has trained on topics related to elderly fraud recovery and prevention to professional groups and senior organizations and has consulted with scam victim's family, locally and nationally. Art, it's thrilled to have you back. It's been a while, it's been too long.
Art: Well, thank you Frank, I agree. It's great to be back with you and to continue spreading the message to your listeners.
Frank: Yeah, as I said, you have a wealth of information and I know that people are always entrusted in hearing what's going on in this area to help prevent scams especially to their loved ones. So, what inspired you to write the book which is again called Scam: 3 Steps To Help Your Elderly Parents & Yourself. What inspired you to write the book?
Art: Well, fortunately or unfortunately it was personal experience. My stepfather, Bill, who was a wonderful man and was part of my life for 46 years; I actually knew Bill longer than I knew either of my birth parents. When he moved to St. Louis, where I lived back in 2006, I had told him about the prevalence of scams in the world and told him to be sure to check with me if anything's sketchy or questionable showed up here either by the phone or by email. And what happened though was I didn't continue talking to him about it, and then in June of 2009, what came to light is that he had been getting ripped off for about five months by scammers with a phony sweepstake scam. And he didn't get the whole thing stopped until a police detective and a uniformed police officer from the town that he lives in here in St. Louis confronted him at the grocery store courtesy counter where he had been wiring money overseas to crooks. And he lost just over $70,000, and that's a terrible scam.
Frank: So, that was a big enough incentive to write the book.
Art: Well, it was. I'm such a social worker at heart. We're all about helping people, and so about a month after this all came to light with Bill, I had a sort of a social worker epiphany, and I though, well, I'm learning about how elders recover from scams and how to help them recover from scams, so maybe this could help other people, and one thing lead to another, and I actually ended up writing a book despite the fact that I've never had thought about doing it before.
Frank: So, you know, seniors of course are the most vulnerable, I would think. So, that's probably why scammers target them. But, you want to expound on that at all?
Art: Sure. Well, everybody in this country has a big target on their back. I mean, children are the victims of Identity Theft. Certainly, a lot of scams affect younger people. But, elders have some different kinds of vulnerabilities. For example, people over 50 in this country controls 70% of the nation's wealth. So the scammers know folks over 50 are where the money is. But elders may also have some level of cognitive impairment, either through dementia-type illness or over medication. Sometimes they are not as security-conscious as I would hope they were, because like Bill said to me he was raised in a time and in a place when people were trustworthy. I mean, certainly there were con artists, but you wouldn't think they were as common and as viciously predatory as they are today. You may also have somebody who isn't as aware of the increasingly sophisticated electronic forms that show up via the internet and the computer. So, there's just a whole host of reasons that elders can be but don't have to be more vulnerable.
Frank: And how do they find these seniors, I mean, are they actually going to the retirement homes? Is it the 'Facebook' thing? How are they finding them?
Art: Well, a lot of it is Facebook, regrettably. There's a lot of Facebook trolls out there who are looking around for older people. A lot of it is through the phone book or online telephone listings. They're looking for older-sounding names. If you see someone named Helen or Herbert they're more likely to think that's an older person than someone named Justin or Tiffany, for example. So, they will target people based on names. They will target people based on the part of a country. There's a lot of scammers specifically working in places like FL and AZ, and other retirement havens for people. So, they look for whatever they can find them. A lot of times, it's just cold calls during the day, because scammers know that elders tend to be home during the day.
Frank: That's scary stuff. But, I know as far as prevention, certainly like you to talk about the best way for seniors and you know almost anybody to prevent getting scammed, but I would think that just education, what you're doing and getting on shows like this, and going out and speaking is the best way to do it. Do you want to talk about some of the scams? I know you have your top 10. Do you want to talk about some of those or do you want to talk specifically about preventing or you could do a combination of both.
Art: Sure. Well, I'll talk about some of the newer ones because when I go out and give my talks, I try to give people the most up-to-date information that I can about scams that are affecting certainly my area right around St. Louis, but certainly also happening all over the country. There's a new scam which is in electronic form that is spoofing or mimicking a funeral home. Now, the original example of this came from a funeral home in Texas. The scammers are so good at what they do, and they know that email users are increasingly savvy about spotting these sorts of questionable messages. So, they're looking for ways to have people evade the delete button. So, a scam email is making the rounds that look like a funeral notification. And so what will happen is an email will show up with the subject line, "Funeral Notification," and it looks exactly like the logo and colors for a specific funeral home. Now, it isn't limited just to funeral homes, this is just where it all started. And it will say, "You'd been invited to a celebration of your friend's life service" on a given date. "For more information, click here," and that link will take a person, either to, excuse me, a site where their personal information could be stolen, or it would download malware and spyware into their computer that would go and look for usernames and passwords. So, the scammers are trying to build credibility and evade our powers of critical thinking and skepticism by appearing to be a legitimate, even desirable kind of business or invitation. So, that's one that has various permutations and styles now. There's another one which has prompted me jokingly, to say, okay, I have to write a revised edition of the book, and that is, scammers are pretending to be the police or say a state highway patrol or something like that calling. And on a person's called ID box it will show the number for MO state police or something like that. And they'll call up and say, "Hey, there's a warrant out for your arrest and we want to give you the chance to handle this right now over the phone. So just give us your bank account #, your debit card #, or go get one of those pre-paid cards like a green-dot card, and let's just take care of that right now." So, the person thinks, I mean, that'll get your attention if somebody calls up and says you have a warrant out for your arrest. And the caller ID box says whatever local police department or the FBI or even the IRS. So, they'll be more likely because of the credibility factor to fall prey to the scam. So, the scammers are working hard to keep evolving their methods based on credibility to get people to fall for the scams.
Frank: Sounds similar to, is it the grandparent’s scam? Does that, it sounds similar to that.
Art: It is very similar. Underpinning all this is emotional manipulation which gets in to psychology of scamming. So in this case, the scammers are using fear, the fear of some sort of prosecution or outstanding warrant to get people to lower their guard and part with either personal information or money or both. Grandparent's scam is fear and sympathy. A person is afraid that their beloved grandchild is stuck in some Mexican jail or something. So, they want to help them out and they will part with money and wire it to some off-shore location.
Frank: That's crazy stuff. So, what do you suggest to people when you go out and speak to people, those who are listening to our show right now? What do you suggest to them?
Art: Well, I breakdown prevention into what I call the 3R's. We've all heard about the 3R's of old-time education which is Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. I think in the world of scam prevention, to be really effective at it, there are 3R's involved. The first one is Recognize. You've got to recognize when a scam is coming your way. And to that end I talk about dead-giveaways for a scam. This would be things like having the scammer choose you in any way. The email comes in, they're choosing you! A phone call comes in, they're choosing you! Or it could be someone who's very nice and charming, the scammer may tell you to keep secret, the actions they're asking you to carry out. I've got a list of 10 or 12 of these dead-giveaways for a scam. So, it's recognizing a scam coming your way. Knowing what to do which is the Respond piece and that boils down basically to boundaries. But, you got to know what to do with what's called a Ransomware Scam something that pops up on your computer and hold your computer hostage and you got to know what's going on when somebody comes up to you in a parking lot and tries to get you to go with them because they found all this money which is the beginning of what they call the Pigeon Drop. So, you got to know the right ways to respond. And finally you got to know how to reach out and wither ask for help, I say, "Reach out to check it out,” or "Reach out and tell other people" about the scam because that makes you feel good because you're helping other people. So, it boils down to 3R's: Recognize Respond, and Reach Out.
Frank: As you know Art, I work with seniors and families, my day job. One of the things, we're always out there educating people on is to try to prevent cognitive issues in the future, keep that mind active, do things that maybe you're not in your past that you've done. And one of the things is getting on the computer. I mean, where certain seniors maybe haven’t really done much computer work and they're taking a class to learn and really keep that mind sharp. What do you suggest to those who are just getting in it, in their 70's or 80's? What do you suggest in that situation?
Art: In terms of just getting into the computer?
Frank: Well, no I mean, in dealing with scams that are coming via email or whatever, how to deal with those situations that they may not be accustomed to seeing.
Art: Well, I recommend of course that they make that a part of what they learn about right away. Computer security is a vital, vital topic for everyone, but especially for seniors, because a lot of seniors can be kind of intimidated with the computer and the level of volume of information, scams that could come in. So, I recommend that they attend the classes at their local senior center on computer security. They'll also, I hope, learn from my email newsletter. I send out an email newsletter at least monthly that talks about some new scams that are out there, including and perhaps with a special emphasis on electronic scams. And I have a handout sheet on computer security that I offer to people when I give talks which I'm happy to make available to your listeners if they want to email me at email@example.com (all one word). So, a lot of senior centers, senior organizations will offer classes. I think those are great ways to know. Jokingly, I say check with somebody under 30 and they are likely to know a lot more about computer stuff than we, over 50.
Frank: Right, right. So, let's talk about your book a little bit. I know we mentioned it. Tell us about who's your audience, I mean, who do you recommend should get your book, read it, and how do they go about doing that?
Art: Well, I wrote the book that I wished I have had when Bill scam happened. I've laid out the book in a way that is very easy to use, almost like a workbook. I get people very specific resources, web addresses, other resources are in the back of the book. And so, I talk about the experience of getting scammed and then how to think about recovery. I talk about the emotional challenges and the psychology of scamming. And then I go heavily in the prevention because, believe me Frank; I have seen this thing and it's much easier to prevent it than it is to clean up afterward. And then I also put my three steps of recovery into practice with three common problems that people may encounter: telemarketing scams, home repair rip-offs, and financial identity theft. So, I really try to cover a lot of territory with the book. And it's really aimed at family members of elders, elders themselves, and professionals in the elder care industry, including elder law attorneys, financial planners and advisors, and people like geriatric care managers or anyone who specialize in work with seniors.
Frank: And how do they go about getting the book?
Art: The book is available on Amazon as both a print book and an e-book. And, it's also available on Barnes & Noble as an e-book on their nook platform.
Frank: Any plans on doing the audio version?
Art: Yes, actually, I am working on that right now; trying to find the right place to handle the reproduction of the discs, and my plan is to get that going sometime in the next couple of months.
Frank: Ah, that's great. That's great.
Art: I'm also getting ready to release some audios of three of the talks that I did that are very popular. One is my general prevention talk, what I call Street-Smart Senior-Preventing Scams and Frauds. I also have another talk on Preventing Identity Theft, and then I have a third one on Understanding the Psychology of Scamming, because if a person understands the psychology of how this happens, they have more information. Again, recognize to be able to know a scam is coming their way, and how the scammers are appealing to them to get them to part with their money or information.
Frank: And would someone be able to go to your website to review those talks?
Art: Yes, 'coming soon. They're not up there yet, but they will be within the next couple of months.
Frank: And your website is?
Frank: Ah, ok good. You know another thing that is very interesting. When you think of these people out there that are coming up with these scams, do you think of them as mean people? Well, obviously, something's wrong with them if they're trying to take care of seniors. But the reality is that if they're talking to you over the phone, they're actually very nice, correct?
Art: They are, yes, because in order to get a person to lower their guard, they have to build rapport with their target. I have a background in hypnosis and hypnotherapy and there are so many similarities between hypnosis to build rapport and what the scammers do in a negative way, to get elders to like them, to believe them, and then do what they want. This is a part of what happened to Bill. He was at home during the day, I'm busy during the day, of course, seeing my clients, and doing all my stuff. Bill said they were the nicest people who you'd ever want to talk to. They were his friends. They asked him how he was feeling, how his dialysis is going. They asked how I was doing, which is of course, kind of vaguely creepy. So yeah, they become a person's friends.
Frank: So, say somebody reads your book, they're prepared and boom, it looked like it's starting to happen to them. What do you suggest they do? Do you just hang up, let's say, it's a phone call, okay, the grandparent scam, or you're being, send some money so we don't come arrest you, whatever it may be and they recognize it. Hang up the phone or get some info that they could help catch these crazy people out there.
Art: Well, generally, it's hang up the phone. However, there are some really "expound" stories that I've heard and shared with seniors about different elders who have messed with the scammers a little bit. There's this whole world that's called scam-bathing," and there's this one lady that I talked to and she got a grandparent-scam call. And this scammer said, "Oh, this is so and so, I'm an attorney representing your grandsons, Will, Paul and Charlie." And she said, "Oh, honey, you must have the wrong number because I'm a retired nun."
Art: So, she messed with him that way. But, generally you want to hang up the phone. If you can get a phone number to call them back, it would be helpful. But, you don't have to be a police officer to take care of yourself. But I recommend after you hang up the phone, the next phone call is to your local police, because they need to know that this stuff is going on. Now, of course, different police departments will be more responsive than others. But, in general, the local police that I've talked to all want to know about this because they want to look for the elders in their community.
Frank: You know I've had people on the show before, talking about elder abuse and many times people think of elder abuse as physical abuse, which you know, that's part of elder abuse. But one of the greatest forms of elder abuse is financial abuse to seniors. And many of the people that are doing that are the caregivers themselves or family members. Would you expound upon that as well?
Art: Yes, Frank. That is one of the most devastating types of scams or financial exploitation or abuse in an elder because of the betrayal piece. A person has a hard time believing that someone who's supposed to be caring for them and even loving them would perpetuate such a terrible thing against them. And so there's a high level of disbelief. There can also be a reluctance to prosecute because of the effects on the family. But, it's often a crime of opportunity and desperation because within those families, there is at least one person who is what we would call "under functioning" in my world of psychotherapy. And these are the people that just can never quite get it together: maybe they struggle with addiction or depression, or just kind of a chronic underemployment which plagues so many people in this so-called new economy. And so, out of desperation, they will start to take money from their grandparents. And it goes on, and it goes on, and it goes on. And it becomes what we call 'account dripping,' where a person takes a little money from the grandparent over time, repeatedly. Or there's also what AARP has to aptly termed the "Well, okay" syndrome which is where the under-functioning younger person will come to the grandparent and say, "Grandma, I need a $100 to pay for my car insurance." And grandma goes, "Okay" because she wants to help. But then that person comes back a month later, and says, "Well, I need $200 now for my cell phone bill." And grandma says, "Well, okay." And then, well okay, well okay, well okay becomes grandma doesn't have enough money for food or medicine because the under-functioning person is playing on her sympathy and draining her dry.
Frank: Yeah, that's crazy. Well, Art, you know it's great to have you on again. We've got to do it sooner next time. There's always more to discuss. I know you're planning new books and talks and we got to keep our listeners educated. So, those of you who are listening, we've had with us, Art Maines. He's the author of the book Scam: 3 Steps To Help Your Elder Parents and Yourself. Go out and get it. It's going to be a well-worthwhile investment. So, Art, thanks so much for joining us.
Art: Well, thank you Frank. I really appreciate your help in getting the message out there, and to any of your listeners, if you want to contact me with any questions, please email me again at firstname.lastname@example.org, or take a look at my website at www.scammedbook.com. And thank you very much.
Frank: Thank you Art. You've been listening to Aging Boomers; I'm your host, Frank Samson. You could go to my website at seniorcareauthority.com and also listen to all of our podcasts at The Aging Boomers.com.