Elderly exploitation: understanding and combating modern scams in Oregon

EASTERN OREGON – So long as there has been an organized society and exchangeable currencies, there have been people who make a living by conning others out of their money and property. As technology has advanced, such cons have only evolved to be more sinister and exploitative. In the modern world, where the complexity of both technology and bureaucracy often goes beyond the common person’s common knowledge, it is no surprise that scammers have taken to targeting older adults and the tech illiterate to make a quick buck. For those in Oregon that have noticed an uptick in attempts at over the phone and online frauds targeted at older adults, know that there are options to combat these cons and keep vulnerable people safe from manipulation.

To help explain what makes these frauds so dangerous and what can be done about them, Elkhorn Media Group spoke with Kai Nichols, an Older Adult Behavioral Specialist with Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Incorporated (GOBHI). As remarked by Nichols when asked about the apparent uptick in scams:

“It’s statewide and maybe even nationwide. As technology gets better and better and people learn, it’s almost like short trading. They hit you for twenty or thirty or forty dollars here and there and people don’t do too much about it. They’re also just more and more sophisticated. It gets harder to get your money back or solve the problem on the other end. We are hearing that at all the senior centers and ADP (adult protective services) offices.”

One of the most common tactics employed by scammers lately, especially over the phone, is to impersonate a representative of law enforcement, the IRS, banks/financial institutions, utility companies, or even retailers like Amazon. Usually, the scams are meant to insight panic by convincing the victim that legal action is being taken against them, water or power is about to be shut off, or some sort of account has been compromised.

Union County residents may be familiar with an ongoing scam tied to EOU where an “Officer McDonald,” claiming to be from campus security, tries to pressure parents of students into sending bail money. Law enforcement agents within the Tri-County area also frequently deal with reports of scammers impersonating officers and deputies and demanding fines be paid over the phone. For elderly individuals not familiar with police procedure or unable to discern discrepancies in a scammer’s identity, these types of calls can be dangerous. As further elaborated by Nichols:

“That’s what they rely on. One of the tips we give people is, when you’re talking to anyone, take your time, do not be rushed, and if someone attempts to rush you, that is a red flag that could be a scammer no matter what the caller I.D. says. Never rely on the caller I.D., they can spoof a number.”

Other details and recommendations from Nichols include:

  1. Write the phone number and name of the suspected scammer and cross reference it with the organization they claim to be from. Call the agency/company to confirm if the first call was legitimate. Keep in mind that some scammers may even organize entire fake companies meant to resemble legitimate ones.
  1. Push back against attempts to proceed with the call quickly. Attempts at rushing or convincing you not to ask someone else for advice should be seen as red flags.
  1. Call the non-emergency number for the local courthouse or law enforcement agency to report the scam.
  1. Designate a trusted person or contact you can ask for advice on scam calls. Referencing this person may cause scammers to panic or pressure you further.
  1. Double check accounts and personal information through official websites and sources before making any decisions. Claims of fraudulent charges or account closures can easily be debunked by simply signing into accounts and checking for yourself.
  1. Recognize that scammers may have basic personal details about you such as names of family members or dates of birth. This does not make them more legitimate.

Keep in mind that law enforcement never demands payments over the phone. Any legal matters will be handled by an official notice or by law enforcement visiting your home in person. Similarly, the IRS does not make calls for payment, instead the written notices asking the person in question to contact them will be sent first.

Beyond fishing for account information or sending money, other scam tactics include trying to trick someone into saying “yes” in order to sample their voice for other scams or attempting to click a link. Fraudulent links and online scams in particular also pose a threat for older adults and those not familiar with technology. As Nichols shared from her own experience:

“Older adults can sometimes be convinced. One time, my mother was on the phone, and she was convinced that Amazon had a huge charge and that she needed to do this or that. She was panicking when I walked through the door, and I just went to her Amazon account and there was no such order, while she was still on the phone with this person.”

When it comes to limiting the exploitability of technology, there are simple steps to take for older adults, along with family and caregivers. Aside from having conversations about how these scams work and what to look out for, downgrading from smartphones to more simple devices can reduce the risk of fraudulent links or messages. Monitoring social media usage, checking caller IDs of recent callers, changing passwords semi-regularly, ensuring that card/payment information is saved on computers or devices, and switching to written checks can all make a difference as well.

Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help or raise concerns. Getting scammed or nearly scammed, in addition to being potentially financially damaging, can also feel embarrassing or humiliating. Reporting scams and asking for help can make all the difference and recovering assets or at least ensuring it doesn’t happen again. As best put by Nichols:

“Don’t be too embarrassed to raise a red flag if you think something happened. Most often, something can be done about it. Although you may lose some money, most of the time, you can get that money back if you can prove that it was a scam. It’s important to know that if you do get scammed, say so, and get some help. It does happen to people. Don’t be embarrassed to say so.”