Your mother was right: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This is a message we all need to remember as we are bombarded with more solicitous calls, emails and mail wanting to sell us the latest “sure thing” guaranteed to make our financial dreams come true — often resulting in our worst nightmare.
Every day, Washington seniors are defrauded of their hard-earned retirement nest eggs. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data indicates Washington state ranks third in the nation for the number of imposter scams (reports per million population) and fourth for investment related scams.
The FTC’s data also indicates seniors age 70 and older are defrauded of the most money, showing the highest median losses of $802 to $1,800 per person. The number one source of contact for fraud is via the telephone. The primary fraud perpetrated is a tech support scam. Helpful hint: Microsoft and Apple will never call you to tell you your computer is infected. And no legitimate business will ask you to pay for anything using gift cards of any kind.
The most frightening aspect of the FTC’s data is it’s based solely on the fraud that is reported. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington noted: “Although fraud victims are not alone, they often suffer their losses alone and in silence. Shame, guilt, embarrassment and disbelief are among the reasons that only an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s fraud victims report their crimes to law enforcement.”
Please, don’t be embarrassed. Scammers are very good at their jobs. Being a criminal is their job. Instead — get even. Don’t wait, report them. Document what they did to you. Tell law enforcement. File a complaint with the FTC. You want people to know the name of the company that defrauded you so your friends, family and neighbors will know to be wary of them.
Once a scam has been conducted, it can often be extremely difficult, and in some cases, impossible, to get the money back — especially if you’ve paid the scammers with a prepaid gift card. Once that money is gone, it’s gone for good.
So what’s a person to do? Arm yourself with education so you won’t be victimized in the first place — and share that information with everyone you know. Organizations like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offer a wealth of information and resources, including a great how-to list on how to spot and avoid fraud at www.saveandinvest.org/protect-your-money/spot-and-avoid-fraud.
If you don’t recognize the number calling, let it go to voicemail. If they’re claiming to be from your financial institution, your credit card company, the IRS or Social Security — call the number on the back of your debit card, credit card, or the number listed at www.irs.gov or www.ssa.gov. Don’t call the number they leave on your voicemail or visit the website they list.
Stay informed about the latest scams. Our agency posts consumer alerts at dfi.wa.gov/news/alerts. If you’re online, check out the Facebook page for Consumer Protection Washington (CPW) at www.facebook.com/ConsumerProtectionWashington. CPW lists scams they hear about from consumers, the news and more.
Remember, it’s your money — you worked hard to earn your retirement, don’t let someone con you out of it!
Lyn Peters is the director of communications for financial education and outreach for the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.
Coming of Age … Again is edited by the Kirkland Senior Council, a group the city of Kirkland created in 2001 to advocated for older adults in our community. The council is made up of people living or working in Kirkland who want to improve and maintain the quality of life for people in Kirkland as they grow older.