Fear has always been a tool criminals use to get money from others. Whether it is created by holding a weapon to a cashier to get their compliance, or simply using a verbal threat against someone on the street to make him/her surrender their wealth, a robber wants his victim to believe they have to act quickly to avoid being harmed.
The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Elder Abuse Unit has seen fear also being used to scam seniors out of their money and assets. Unlike direct threats to their safety, however, many fear-based scams involve the illusion that the victim will lose their wealth, their security, or someone close to them if they don’t act quickly.
One such scam that is occurring in Hawai‘i is the Distressed Relative Scam. This scam relies on the victim making a quick emotional decision, before they have time to verify the facts or to ask for advice from others. The victim will get a message, either a telephone call or an email, relating to them that a family member is in dire straights and money will solve the problem.
An example of the charade can include a “doctor” calling the victim to inform them that their family member was injured while traveling and money needs to be sent immediately so that the loved one can be saved. Another has involved the con-man (or woman) claiming to be their grandchild or some other relation to the victim and informing them they were unlawfully arrested and need bail money to escape the mistreatment they are receiving in jail.
The perpetrator of this scam goes on to instruct the victim how they can either wire the money to them or tells them to get a Green Dot loadable charge card from Walgreens or Wal-Mart and put money into the card’s account and relay the account number on the back of the card to them.
When hearing about this scam in the light of day, one can easily realize that there is something suspicious about the above scenarios. But as any parent or grandparent will tell you, the call they dread the most is one informing them that someone precious to them needs help. It is a message like this that will force them to panic and act before they think clearly about what is being said.
Fear is also incorporated into other types of scams seniors encounter — such as when seniors receive a call from “the bank” saying that suspicious activity is occurring on their account, and then they are asked to give the caller their personal account information so that “the bank” can secure the account’s money. Additional scams include the lottery and sweepstakes scams featured in the December/January 2014 issue of Generations, and Sweetheart Swindles featured in the August/September 2013 issue.
If you are ever contacted by someone and feel pressured to make a decision out of fear, then it is time to stop and verify the facts. This can be as easy as calling a relative to compare notes or calling Crime Stoppers at 808-955-8300.