An email signed by a foreign official says you’ve just won $5.3 million in a national lottery. You want to believe it. Just pay certain fees and taxes in advance, the email says, and a truck filled with cash will be delivered to you.
Or maybe, after living alone for a few years, you’ve found love again. The two of you met online. This new romance could become much more, if only you could help your love get to the United States. You have plans to get married. But first, you need to wire $2,000 to cover air fare and clear up a snafu involving customs.
Fraudsters are increasingly targeting older adults with these and other imposter scams designed to deplete their savings. They do it by phone, social media and email, exploiting loneliness and dreams. Before joining Wells Fargo Advisors, I worked for 12 years with the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission fighting such crimes, and I saw first-hand how the bad guys are increasingly targeting African Americans and the elderly.
Why they do this is no secret. Statistically, African Americans continue to earn and save less than their majority counterparts, documented in September by the U.S. Census Bureau report, “Income and Poverty in the United States.” But nonetheless, they have significant assets as they age and begin collecting Social Security, pensions and other retirement savings. This money is hard-earned, but bad actors have no qualms about taking it.
The best way to protect yourself is to be able to identify when you’ve been targeted by a con artist. Many imposters will try to convince you that you owe the government money, or that your grandchild is in trouble, or that your life will improve significantly if you would just send money immediately. They direct you to provide credit card information, or a check routing number.
At Wells Fargo Advisors in St. Louis, I lead a team devoted to identifying these scams and working to keep them from hurting our older clients. Several times a year, we visit senior centers in St. Louis and share information to help anyone who’s interested in learning more about how to protect their finances.
The best line of defense: never give money to anyone who asks for it.
Here are four common scams to look for and avoid:
YOU HAVE WON THE LOTTERY SCAM. Hang up on anyone calling to say you have won money overseas. Never respond to an email making the claim either. Also know that no legitimate lottery requires winners to pay fees.
YOUR ONLINE LOVER NEEDS MONEY SCAM. There never is a reason to send money to someone you meet online. This is especially true when you have not met in person. Identities and backgrounds can be and often are faked. Save your love for somebody you can see.
IRS OR JURY DUTY SCAM. These two scams work on fear where you are told you are in trouble unless you pay back taxes or a fine for missing jury duty. The IRS will never, ever call to ask for money. No court system will call to collect money for missing jury duty. Both are scams.
DOOR-TO-DOOR HOME REPAIR SCAM. A man says he was in the neighborhood and noticed your roof, driveway, chimney or other housing feature needs repair. He offers to do the work for a reasonable price but needs 20 percent cash down to get started. Unfortunately, the work never happens. Only hire reputable repair shops that you yourself contact because you have the need.
Growing older is one of life’s true pleasures. You should be on guard, however, against the scams that might threaten your financial well-being during these later years. Tear out this column and tape it to the fridge if it helps. Please take charge, and mind your money.
Ron Long is compliance manager at Wells Fargo Advisors. Wells Fargo Advisors is a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, Members SIPC, separate registered broker-dealers and non-bank affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company.