Older adults are often targeted by scammers, who use various tactics to gain access to personal information, bank accounts, and funds. The latest scam sweeping the nation involves “imposter fraud.” It starts with a phone call from a person claiming to be a relative with an urgent financial problem. The Federal Trade Commission reports that imposter fraud is the leading scam targeting consumers in the country, with the victims losing an average of $1,124 each.

How Does the Scam Work?

The scammer poses as a relative in desperate need of help. Rather than asking for funds to be transferred by wire, the scammer asks the victim to purchase gift cards and call back and provide the numbers on the cards. Large retailers, such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, or others, are the usual requests. The victim then buys the gift cards, providing the numbers to the scammer. Some victims have been contacted several times and asked to purchase more gift cards, with one notable case in which an older woman lost $36,000.

The “relative in trouble” approach is just one of a range of gift-card scams. The scammer may claim to be from the IRS and collecting back taxes. They may claim to be from a company offering tech support, informing a senior that his computer has a virus and they can fix it.

Another version of the scam involves the caller posing as a law enforcement officer or a utility that will cut off power or water if the bill isn’t paid immediately – with a gift card. The scam may be run by telling a victim he or she is a prizewinner – but to claim the prize, a gift card must be purchased to cover costs.

The underlying theme of every version of this scam is that money is needed immediately, whether by wire or by purchasing gift cards.

How to Protect Your Relatives From Phone Scams

It can be challenging to ensure your loved ones do not fall for phone scams. The perpetrators are convincing, and seniors with hearing or memory problems may believe that the person they are speaking to is a grandson, granddaughter, or another relative.

To avoid falling prey to this scam, explain it to your family members thoroughly and simply. Tell them to contact you immediately if they get a call from any person claiming to be a relative in trouble, the IRS, or any other party who claims to need money at once – no matter how urgent the request. Report the incident to the police and the Federal Trade Commission.

Elder Law Attorneys: Kreisher Marshall & Associates, LLC

At Kreisher Marshall & Associates, LLC, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of the elderly. We provide counsel in a range of cases, including estate planning, asset protection, life-care planning, social security disability, and matters associated with personal care homes. Marianne E. Kreisher and Marissa B. Marshall are the only certified elder law attorneys (CELAs) practicing in Columbia and Montour Counties. This certification was achieved through the National Elder Law Foundation, as authorized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. With 40 years of experience, we are familiar with the vital resources for seniors, both public and private. Call (570) 784-5211 to speak with us about any elder law matter.