Special by Isabelle Berkopec
Recently, AARP learned of the suicide deaths of two older adults who were victims of different scams in the Mobile area. Sadly, the despair that often comes with these crimes is a threat to the mental health and well-being of millions of Americans each year. Our thoughts are with the families of these two older adults as they grieve the devastating loss of their loved ones. (Scam artists drive seniors to suicide - WPMI15)
The Federal Trade Commission found that identity theft and fraud reports increased by 45% in the year 2020. Within the year, 4.8 million cases resulted in over $3.3 billion in total losses. Increased isolation and internet usage due to the COVID-19 pandemic made many people more vulnerable than ever to fraud and scams.
AARP found that the most common scams targeting adults 60 and older in 2020 were romance scams, prizes and lottery scams, government or business imposters, investments, and tech support scams. The aftermath of fraud can include severe emotional trauma. Feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and helplessness are common. A post published by the Association of Fraud Examiners related the anguish of one couple:
"It's devastating. It's embarrassing. It's heartbreaking," said Penny Wasser, who, along with her husband Marv, lost her life savings to a con man. Her husband, remembering his feelings in the aftermath of the fraud, confessed: "You really wish you'd die.” (All is Not Lost: Fraud Victims, Emotional Stress, and the CFE)
If you or someone you know has fallen victim to a scam - or even an attempted scam - immediately report the crime to local law enforcement. AARP also has resources to assist. We encourage everyone to report suspected scams to the AARP Fraud Helpline at 877-908-3360. Reporting these crimes and attempted crimes helps to keep our families and communities safer. More fraud prevention information is available at the AARP Fraud Watch Network, a free service to people of all ages from AARP.
Everyone is vulnerable to experiencing fraud and identity theft, often without being aware right away that it has happened. Here are just a few safety tips to keep in mind:
- Never give out personal or financial information when you receive an unexpected request by phone, email, text – or even someone going door-to-door.
- Never send money to anyone who insists you pay with a gift card or by using a money transfer service. Criminals prefer these methods to avoid being traced.
- Resist the urge to act immediately or give in to pressure. Fraudsters use fear and pressure to keep their targets from walking away. They may try to convince you that you or a loved one is in danger if you don’t send money right away.
- And finally, let unknown phone calls go to voicemail. Also be aware that scammers can “spoof” or imitate a legitimate business or government agency on your caller ID. It’s not really “Social Security” or “Medicare” or the “IRS” calling you. Government agencies will send you a letter in the mail if they need to contact you.
If you or someone you know has had suicidal thoughts, help is available 24 hours a day. Call the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 800-273-8255.