Educational sessions on elder financial abuse, ID theft and more

Consumer Action’s Linda Williams presented top ten financial scams targeting seniors.
Published: Thursday, October 05, 2017

Consumer Action’s outreach and training manager, Linda Williams, recently conducted a series of trainings at the National Association of Consumer Credit Administrators’ (NAACA) national conference and its annual examiner compliance training school in Phoenix, AZ. NAACA was formed in 1935 to improve the supervision of consumer credit agencies and to facilitate the administration of laws governing these agencies.

Williams delivered her first educational session, entitled Elder Abuse: Financial Scams Against Seniors, to a packed audience. Elder financial abuse occurs when someone illegally or improperly uses a vulnerable senior’s money or other property; financial fraud is the fastest growing form of elder abuse nationally.

Williams kicked off the presentation by featuring the top ten financial scams targeting seniors, as identified in a 2017 report issued by the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging. These include IRS impersonation and sweepstakes, computer and other scams. Williams pointed out that financial scams against older Americans can include a broad range of conduct, from outright theft (money or property) or forgery (a signature on a will, deed or other legal document, for example) to getting paid for care, products or services that are not provided. The audience hung on every word as Williams counted down the top ten scams.

As part of her presentation, Williams opened up a discussion on how to end robocalls and romance scams directed at seniors, which drew a robust conversation that continued in the hallways long after the conclusion of the presentation. Robocalls, which use computerized autodialers to deliver pre-recorded messages (often with the goal of scamming vulnerable people), continue despite the fact that Congress created the National Do Not Call Registry in 2003 with the aim of ending telemarketing intrusions. Fourteen years later, telemarketers and scammers bypass the registry, often using robocall technology to disturb even greater numbers of Americans, especially seniors. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 5.34 million Do Not Call Registry complaints, an increase of 49 percent over the previous year.

Williams informed the audience that in response to the high volume of complaints about robocalls, the FTC launched a contest—the Robocall Challenge—to identify innovative solutions to protect consumers. In April 2013, the FTC announced that Nomorobo, a free service that screens and blocks robocalls made to VoIP phone numbers, was one of the winners of the contest. While Nomorobo has been reviewed by Consumer Reports with good results, “whitelist” call blocking services, which block all incoming numbers except those specifically listed as acceptable, are generally recommended for seniors who are at high risk of being taken advantage of (for instance, those with Alzheimer’s). CPR Call Blocker Protect is one such whitelist service that is marketed primarily to these populations.

Williams’ presentation then turned to romance scams. Some in the audience were shocked to hear that “granny or grandpa” were likely to be engaging in online dating these days, but Williams was quick to inform the audience that romance scams were seventh on the list of the top 10 scams she had presented. As a matter of fact, the love con is an ancient ploy that has only increased due to advances in technology and the explosion of web-based dating services.

AARP reports that, as of December 2013, one in 10 American adults have used online dating services such as, Plenty of Fish and eHarmony. The online dating boom has also fueled an invisible epidemic: According to the FTC, complaints about impostor ploys such as the romance scam have more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, and nearly half of those who fell victim in 2014 were aged 50 or older. All told, this age group accounted for approximately 70 percent of the money lost to romance scams!

The next day, Williams presented a lively session on identity theft to a standing-room only audience. The audience participated in the session by sharing their personal and professional experiences with different forms of ID theft. Williams used Consumer Action’s ID theft fact sheets to help the audience understand the nuances of each form of ID theft and how they can inflict harm in different ways.

It was a discussion on specialty consumer reports, however, that drew the most interest and questions from the audience during the ID theft session. Many participants were shocked to learn that, in addition to the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian), hundreds of specialty consumer reporting agencies exist to collect information on particular consumer activities (from check-writing to medical payments) and provide reports to creditors, employers, landlords and others involved in the type of critical decision-making that impacts where a consumer can live, what job he or she can get, etc. Williams went on to inform the audience about the different types of specialty reports, consumers’ rights to obtain copies of the reports and how individuals can dispute inaccurate information (as dictated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act).

“I was honored to be able to present these critical issues that are so relevant not only to vulnerable populations but to anyone looking to establish and maintain good credit,” Williams said. “I look forward to continuing my work with the National Association of Consumer Credit Administrators to help its constituents fight back against fraud and unfair, predatory practices in the marketplace.”




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