During my time as a Financial Counselor at OnTrack Financial Education and Counseling, I knew a very kind and intelligent older woman. I still think of her often. She was distraught and trying to piece her life back together. Several months before she had unwittingly fallen victim to a “Sweetheart Scam” and realized a little too late what had happened.
Her story was particularly touching because it’s easy to put yourself in her shoes. She truly believed she had met a wonderful man online whom she would marry. The only thing standing in the way of their happiness, she thought, was that her new beau was living overseas. She explained to me, in between tears, how they had planned for him to travel to the United States so they could start their lives together. You can probably guess what happened next. Her beau suffered a series of “crises” on his way to the United States that required emergency wires from her bank account to his overseas account. She lost everything. He, of course, never materialized. Unfortunately, this is not the only first-hand account of senior financial fraud I encountered while counseling at OnTrack. It was a fairly frequent occurrence.
As the holidays approach, I often think of this particular client. People are gathering near and far to visit with loved ones, the giving of gifts is on many minds, and many people are optimistically looking forward to the beginning of a new year. This sentiment is exactly why I think of this woman every year at this time: she was hopeful and looking towards her future, but instead of the future she dreamed of manifesting, she was scammed.
Unfortunately, scams are not an uncommon occurrence during the holidays. Scams involving online purchases pop up often during this time of year. Scammers know that a large portion of shoppers plan to do all, or most, of their shopping online this year. Some fraudsters even go so far as to create fake websites that display popular gifts of the season at deep discounts. Make sure you are extra vigilant about cyber security if you decide to purchase a deal that’s “too good to be true,” as it often is!
Another scam to watch out for right now is fake charities. This one is particularly bothersome to me. Scammers are well aware of the charitable feelings of many during the holidays and they are capitalizing on it! If you receive a call from a charity you would like to support, politely decline; you can always look up the charity’s contact information and contact them yourself. Also, before you give, make sure any new charity you are considering is legitimate by doing a quick search at Charity Navigator.
Scams like these are the bread and butter of a billion-dollar business called the Elder Fraud Industry. Between 2009 and 2015, losses of $46.6 million were reported to the NC Attorney General’s elder fraud unit. In fact, the worst known victimization in NC, totaling $800,000, happened right here in Asheville. So how do we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? The first step is to check with your banking institution to see what specific fraud prevention measures it has in place, including options that you chose to activate. The second step is to talk to your financial planner or advisor to similarly see what specific measures are in place or available for your investment acounts. For example, here at Starks Financial Group, we always make sure to have an updated emergency contact on file so that we can reach out to someone who knows our client well if we have concerns. Lastly, there are a number of wonderful resources for preventing or addressing elder financial fraud. Locally, the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services (828/250-5800) will investigate allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation of functionally disabled persons. The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office (828/250-6670) is another resource if you believe you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud. On a statewide scale, the Attorney General (877/5-NO-SCAM) has the power to interdict all MoneyGram and Western Union wires, but you have to report the suspected fraud for them to be able to do take any steps. Nationally, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov) has a wide breadth of educational resources and consumer tools as well.
Associate Financial Planner
440 Montford Ave.
Asheville, NC 28801
The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Rachel Tanksley and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse any of the individuals or organizations mentioned above. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services are offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Starks Financial Group is not a registered broker dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services.