When people, seniors especially, are going through a transition in their lives such as the death of a spouse or a move, they are likely to become more vulnerable to scams.
Catherine Scrivano, a financial planner with the CASCO Financial Group in Phoenix, aims to educate people about being aware of their vulnerability so they can be better prepared to recognize and resist scammers.
For instance, after a family member dies and “you have been named in an obituary, you can most certainly count on being approached,” she said.
“It may not be immediately, but there’s a very good chance that if you’re named in an obituary, somebody is going to reach out to you and probably drop some of the other names that were used,” Scrivano said.
Other references that might be made could include an alma mater or charities.
“They use a lot of those kind of references, so when they approach you, you feel as if they know you,” she said.
This familiarity fraud adds a feeling of legitimacy to the encounter, and although “you may not recognize them, you feel like you should,” Scrivano added.
Another approach scammers take is making a phone call claiming to raise money for an organization listed in the obituary, or a similar one for the same cause, then ask for credit card information.
“I would love for everyone who has been named in an obituary to expect to be contacted, so when it inevitably happens, they’re prepared and they already have their response planned,” Scrivano said.
She advises that people keep a script by their phone that says something to the effect of “I’m sure this is a wonderful opportunity, but I made a commitment to not take any action before talking to my trusted advisers.”
This group of trusted advisers, made up of family members, friends or financial professionals, is something that Scrivano recommends putting together to help vet financial requests to make sure they are legitimate. Some senior centers also offer financial services.
Scrivano also advises that family members be extra vigilant to help loved ones through a vulnerable time, so they can detect potential issues. For instance, some medications can affect areas of judgment.
“When they say, ‘Don’t drive heavy machinery,’ I would add, ‘Don’t respond to solicitation,’” Scrivano said.
Scammers can be very persuasive, Scrivano warns. They use tactics like expressing great enthusiasm to get people emotionally engaged, such as in a phone call about being a sweepstakes winner.
“Then they say, ‘Oh, by the way, all I need is a shipping and handling charge,’” Scrivano added.
Other tips Scrivano offers to deflect scammers include not posting vacation posts on social media when you are out of town; being aware that scammers often do their work through organizations where people let their guard down, such as religious organizations; and monitoring requests by caregivers.
“I’m not so jaded that I don’t believe there are people with goodwill and bad luck,” Scrivano said, “but acknowledging our vulnerability means that we’re less likely to be taken advantage by anybody with bad intent.” JN
Those who suspect they’ve been the victim of a scam can contact the Area Agency on Aging at aaaphx.org or Arizona Adult Protective Services at 877-767-2385 or azdes.gov/reportadultabuse. Leisah Woldoff is a freelance writer based in Phoenix.