Scammers lie in wait, looking for ways to rip off folks after every weather or other natural disaster. It may be terrible wildfires, hurricanes, massive storm surges and loss of life that grab media attention. Everywhere, legitimate charities appeal for donations to help those affected and many respond. But, some scammers seize the moment when victims of disaster really do need help and they exploit the situation with fake appeals.
The issue with aging parents is that many are not sharp or discerning enough to tell the difference between an honest charity and a pretend “relief organization” or fake government entity that just looks or sounds real. For many elders, answering the phone is a habit and they don’t necessarily pay attention to caller ID. Worse yet, even if they do check caller ID, scammers can “spoof” the signal and show Red Cross, FEMA or other charity or agency by manipulating this identity.
There are a few simple things you can communicate to your aging loved ones to protect them from the influx of post disaster fraudsters who are taking advantage of the situation. They may have heard this before but it’s easy to forget when the emotional appeal for help gets them to want to donate. Scammers are very effective at playing on the emotions of others.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urges us all to pay attention to warning signs before giving money to anyone making a charitable appeal to you or your elders. Their published cautions include these:
- Don’t donate to anyone who insists you can only pay by cash, gift card, wiring money, or cryptocurrency. That’s how scammers demand that you pay. If you decide to donate to any worthy cause, pay by credit card, which gives you more protections. If it is a scam you have a better chance of getting the credit card transaction cancelled.
- Confirm the number before you text to donate. Go straight to the charity. Is it their number? If the scammers say they’re from a government, utility company or contractor helping victims, call the entity and confirm whether the request is legitimate.
- Research the organization yourself — especially if the donation request comes on social media. Search the name plus “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.” People who have been victimized by fraudsters often post warning to others on social media.
Some successful scammers buy or otherwise acquire the names and ages of people they think are likely targets. Typically, they expect older adults to be more susceptible to being swayed due to memory loss or confusion. Sometimes they’re correct in that assumption. They may expect elders to be more trusting in general. This may be true or not, but they also expect elders to be more readily fooled by an honest sounding voice on the phone. They expect your aging parents to be less jaded and suspicious than the younger generation may be. Of course these assumptions may be wrong, but thieves successfully steal billions of dollars every year from elders with numerous tricks, so we can conclude that they are right often enough in whom they target first.
We need to keep warning our aging loved ones about the risks of appeals to give money from phone calls especially in the wake of any disaster. Here are three simple reminders you can give parents with every nationally reported natural tragic event they hear about.
- Most legitimate charities are not going to call your aging parents and ask for money. Even if they do, you can ask your aging loved ones to never give money in response to any phone solicitation without checking with you first. You can then do the research for them and find out if it is real.
- Get aging parents to agree that they will never donate to anyone or anything by gift card or other means than credit card.
- Tell your aging loved ones about disaster scammers. Make it clear that these evil people take advantage of situations when donations to the real cause would be appropriate. Offer them your research support if they want to donate. Assure them that the money will go to the right place to help disaster victims and not to someone stealing from them..