My Dad is smart, capable, caring, fit, generous, and kind.
He is also 84. He freely admits it. He is old.
For his generation — those who grew up in the heart of the great depression — technology peaked with color TV. He’s never used a computer. He’s never been on-line. The running family joke is from when I was off at college and my sisters tried to explain e-mail. His first question was legendary: “Where do you put the stamp?”
He is polite and courteous to everyone; especially strangers. He will do anything for anyone. He’s the most selfless man I know.
That’s what makes him the ideal target for the guy who just called his cell phone.
It’s 8:30pm on a Wednesday night, and we’ve just been sat down to dinner. The waitress finished taking our drink order when his phone rings. I can see by his puzzled expression that he doesn’t recognized the number. Then he does what few under the age of 60 would do in similar circumstance: He takes the call.
“This is who?” He can’t make out the voice. “The IRS?!?”
Clear confusion on his face now.
“My account handles all of that.” A longer pause. “Sure, it’s 147–2…”
“DAD!!!” I wave my hands in front of me like I’m a referee miming an incomplete pass in football.
I motion for him to hand me his phone.
I don’t even speak to the person on the line.
I end the call.
The call log recorded the number. Google confirms what I already know. The number comes up as a fraud warning. Someone was just phishing for my old man’s info.
He looks at me for answers. How do I explain this?
The simple fact is this: For those who wish to do harm, ‘likelihood of success’ is the single most influential factor of target selection.
Statistically speaking, the over 60 population are most likely to own their own home, most likely to have modest savings, and are most likely to have good credit. The “greatest generation” is also more likely to be have been brought up to be nice, polite, and courteous to strangers. Elderly victims are less-likely to report being a victim of fraud because they are fearful of family members believing they are incapable of handling their own affairs, and since financial crimes can be difficult to prosecute, elderly fraud is largely considered to be a “low-risk” crime for offenders. In other words, the elderly are ideal targets for those with nefarious intent.
Elderly adults (+60) who are targeted for fraud are 34% more likely to lose money than respondents in their 40’s.
Elderly fraud is a growing concern. The FBI has an entire webpage dedicated to senior citizens and fraud protection. It covers everything from Health Care and Insurance scams, to telemarking fraud and investment schemes. It is a must read for anyone who has a loved one over the age of 60.
Phishing scams — like the one just attempted against my Dad — are the most common. They often involve a phone call or an email message from someone claiming to be from a large national bank or a well-known government agency (like the IRS) asking their targets to “update passwords” or “verify personal information” under the disguise of looking out for their safety.
I hand my Dad back his phone and offer some advice as plain as possible.
“If you don’t recognize the number, you don’t have to answer.”
Today’s home and mobile phones all come standard with caller ID. If you don’t recognize the name, and you don’t recognize the number, there is nothing wrong with having them leave a message to see what they want. You can always call them back later. You’re not being rude. You’re being safe.
“If I call you, I have to prove myself to you. If you call me, you have to prove yourself to me.”
No official organization or legitimate business will ever call you and then require you to verify who you are. The burden of proof is always on the caller. No matter who calls, never, ever, EVER give out your complete social security number over the phone, to anyone, at anytime, for any reason.
“Who are your favorite five?”
Every important decision is worthy of second opinion. Any decision that has to deal with financial investment, medical decision, legal concern, family matter, or friendship endeavors should likely be discussed with another before making up your mind. As a general rule, you can trust your doctor, your lawyer, your accountant, loyal family and long-time friends.
“Strangers don’t ask strangers for help. Strangers don’t offer strangers large sums of money.”
“Dad, when I was a kid, what did you tell me about strangers?”
He rolls his eyes.
Let me ask you this, “If you walked out of here tonight and happened to find a lot of money on the street, are you more likely to call someone you trust or to make an unbelievable generous offer to someone you never met?”
He nods in agreement.
Keep it simple: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
“Unsolicited calls asking for donations should always be answered with a ‘No, Thank You.’”
“No, Thank You” is a complete sentence.
If you want to help support a great cause, do your own research and donate to the cause that looks best to you. Unfortunately, not all good deeds go toward good causes. Fraudulent charities always pop-up around holidays and after tragedies. If you want to make a meaningful difference, a little extra effort is all it takes to make sure your money goes to where it will matter most.
Dad’s phone rings again as dinner is being served. His head turned to the side as he shows me the number. Another unknown number.
He declines the call. Sips his beer. Looks down at his steak. Looks back up at me.
“I really hope that wasn’t your Mother.”
Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.