In part one of this series, we explored two popular scams that are targeting older adults this year: the grandparent scam, and cryptocurrency pickpocketing. In this article, I’m sharing two more scams that you and your parents need to be aware of, plus tips for staying protected.
03 | PERSONALIZED PHISHING EMAILS
Imagine opening your inbox to an urgent email from a seemingly legitimate source – perhaps your bank, a popular online retailer, or even a social media platform. The message claims there has been suspicious activity on your account and urges you to click a link or provide sensitive information to verify your identity. This is the classic phishing email – a crafty attempt to deceive you into revealing your personal data.
Phishing has been around since email became mainstream, but what has changed is the depth to which scammers feign legitimacy. Even if you or your parents are familiar with phishing email schemes, new approaches and advances in technology are making it harder than ever to detect a phishing email.
Same Scammers, New Tricks
Phishers often pose as trusted entities such as banks, governments, or department stores. But in recent years, phishers have been sending their victims more personalized emails to trick them into thinking the message is from someone the victim personally knows or is personally connected with. The email will address the victim by name and may appear to come from a friend, co-worker, or supervisor. It may even contain a legitimate-looking email domain, signature, or logo.
The email will usually claim that there is a time-sensitive matter that needs to be addressed, such as a gift that needs to be purchased for a co-worker’s birthday or important client, and asks the victim to purchase the gift via online gift cards, PayPal, or crypto.
For example, you may see an email that reads:
“Hi Jim, this is Mr. Boss. I’m going to be in meetings all day today but I need to send a gift to our new client right away. Please purchase a $200 gift card on Amazon and send it to this email address. I will then forward it to our client.”
Some phishers will pose as banks, lending agencies, or debt relief programs and claim that you have been approved for special credit or financial assistance. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, student loan pause, and hurricane season, you may have seen an email like this:
“Hi Aaron, it’s Gav with Hardship Relief Program. We tried reaching you at your home and did not hear back… I’m not sure if you’ve spoken to an assigned agent yet, but I do see that you’re pre-approved for our Hardship Program. So, what I’m going to do is keep this in a pending status. Please give me a call between the hours of 8 AM and 10 AM EST to go over the details. My number is 555-886-3424.”
Identifying Scams: It’s All in The Details
Before you respond to any kind of email requesting a phone call, consider whether the sender’s request seems legitimate. Did you actually open an account or fill out an application? Is it normal for your boss to email you about important requests?
Always scrutinize the sender's email address, even if it looks legitimate, by hovering your cursor over the email address to reveal its true origin. Avoid clicking on suspicious links, and never share personal information via email, no matter how professional the sender’s email appears.
Check the email and “from address” for typos, and verify the information provided by the sender, such as the company name and phone number, by searching for it online. When in doubt, contact the company directly through official channels to confirm the authenticity of the message.
04 | THE ONLINE OVERPAYMENT SCAM
In the world of online buying and selling sites like Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, and Craigslist, scammers are increasing their attacks and their success by preying on the good conscience of other people.
In the overpayment scam, the fraudster contacts the victim pretending to be interested in purchasing an item the victim has listed for sale online. The scammer offers to purchase your item, usually at an inflated price, and appears to make a payment that's higher than the agreed-upon amount.
The scammer then requests that you refund the excess amount they "accidentally" sent, and will usually act panicked, upset, and harried. The scammer may even threaten to report the victim to the police for “stealing” the scammer’s money.
But here’s where the twist comes in: the overpayment sent by the scammer was actually fake – a fraudulent check or a forged payment confirmation email that made it seem like you received funds when in fact the scammer didn’t send anything at all. When you refund the overpaid amount, you're essentially giving away your legitimate money, and by the time the scam is realized, the scammer has disappeared into the digital abyss.
To protect yourself and your parents from this sinister scam:
Always require online buyers to pay through traceable means, such as PayPal, Cash App, or Venmo.
Avoid sending and receiving money from strangers through non-refundable money transfer services like Zelle.
Never accept more money than the purchase price.
If the buyer wants a refund, verify that you actually received the funds by logging into your payment servicer account and checking your balance there. Do not rely on a confirmation email which can be easily faked, especially if your payment account does not show any payment received.
Preserving Your Assets and Protecting Your Loved Ones
Staying on top of constantly changing financial scams can feel overwhelming, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can help keep yourself and your aging parents safe from the financial and emotional harm scams cause.
We're available to help guide a discussion with you and your parents about your financial well-being as part of your estate plan, including how to catalog their assets and how to make it as easy as possible for you to help each other in the case of an emergency or scam attempt.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That is why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you have ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting our office today to schedule a planning session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
Disclaimer: All information on this website is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. You should contact an attorney trained to work with families on estate planning matters regarding your specific situation. Use of and access to this website or any of the email links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, and any users or any other party.