One of the most highly reported forms of elder abuse in Santa Barbara is fraud, especially in the form of phone scams. “Crooks prey on seniors because who else has the most money saved up?” said Ruth Corona.
The prevalence of phone scamming is on the rise across the nation, costing Americans billions of dollars each year. And as their schemes become increasingly convincing, scammers can often be difficult to detect, often siphoning off large sums of money before they are found out. “It’s unbelievable; we’ve had people in Santa Barbara lose up to $1 million,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Vicki Johnson.
“We had one case here where the belief was that her lover was a soldier who had somehow been left behind in Iraq, and he needed money to get home,” explained Johnson. “And then all of these problems happened: She lost her house; she is now living in a motel; she has gone through all of her savings …. All she has left is her Social Security and a little bit of a pension, and every month he gets more and more from her.” This particular scammer is so convincing that even after the FBI went out to tell her that it was a scam, she would not believe them.
Because phone and internet scams are happening at such an alarming rate in Santa Barbara, it is important to understand what some of the most common schemes are and how to avoid them. “A good rule of thumb is to avoid anyone who is trying to sell you something you didn’t intend to buy,” said Johnson. Know that perpetrators often try to create a sense of urgency and panic. Another big red flag is “when someone asks for your credit card or Social Security information,” added Johnson.
Here are some common phone scam schemes:
(1) “Grandpa, I’ve been in an accident”: Perpetrator pretends to be a grandchild who has either been kidnapped or is calling from the police station and needs money for ransom or bail.
(2) “This is the IRS”: Perpetrator pretends to be calling from the IRS and says something along the lines of, “If you don’t pay your past-due taxes immediately, a warrant will be placed for your arrest.”
(3) “Sweetheart Scam”: Perpetrators lurk in chat rooms and usually target single women. The relationship starts off with a friendship and soon becomes romantic as the two chat constantly. The “sweetheart” is almost always overseas and starts running into money problems.
(4) “You’ve won the sweepstakes!”: Perpetrators create excitement over a free vacation or lottery drawing, saying if you don’t claim your prize immediately it will be taken away and given to someone else.