Robocalls – Crimes Against the Elderly
Updated: Feb 18, 2019
Robocalls are on the rise, and scammers are targeting the elderly more often than not. What are robocalls? Robocalls are basically recorded sales calls. Federal law allows charities, political campaigns, and groups like schools to use robocalls, while telemarketers are barred from using recorded sales calls without the consumer’s written consent. The scammers are heavily targeting the elderly, posing as cash-strapped grandchildren, tax collectors, or providers of technical support.
Fully robotic robocalls schemes leave automated messages directing the person to call back at certain numbers. When the person calls back, he/she encounters a person and a pitch. In another scheme, the scammers will speak directly with the person when he/she picks up. A doctored caller ID helps add to the guise of their credibility. The lawbreakers are often in oversea call centers, hoping to avoid detection and punishment.
Robocalls hit a record 1.7 million in the first four months of 2016, up 41% from the year-earlier period. Complaints about automated robocalls have tripled since 2009. Why have robocalls increased in recent times?
While the automated calls are not new, the technology granting scammers easy access is new. The dramatic rise in Internet access globally means almost anyone anywhere can run a phone scam. Mass-dialing technology is widely available along with inexpensive long-distance rates and cheap overseas labor. All of these factors mean that scammers can place robocalls for less than one cent per minute whereas before the cost to set up phone lines to mask the outgoing number could be $20,000.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says that the scams are primarily directed at seniors. Many scammers will mine the Internet for family information and then call the senior, pretending to be his/her grandchild, pleading for money. Callers have also manipulated the caller ID to imitate the IRS. They falsely claim the person owes back taxes and face imminent legal trouble. They have also manipulated the caller ID to mimic the Social Security Administration office in order to get personal information like a social security number.
In another common fraud, the caller pretends to be a lottery official. He/she tells the senior that he/she has won but must first pay taxes and fees. Seniors have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to some of these scams. Sometimes, callers will pose as tech support for software companies, inducing people to install malware on their computers. The “malware,” then, disables the computer’s protection and gives the caller access to a person’s private information. Those who have fallen victim to these scams are more likely to be targeted again. Victims tend to be approached repeatedly because their names end up on lists passed around by scammers.
Phone carriers are working toward offering their customers technology that aims to detect robocalls and stop them before they get through. State Senators have also filed a bill to increase penalties and help federal authorities pursue overseas lawbreakers. In the meantime, families should diligently should look out for their elderly relatives to keep them safe from scamming robocalls.