Let’s face it: In a world that is increasingly dependent on technology, everyone is a potential victim of fraud. Tens of thousands of Americans fall prey to swindlers each year. But people over the age of 60 are targeted by scammers, often because they are trusting, polite, enjoy good credit, own a home and have financial savings.
The number of elderly victims and their losses have been rising rapidly, according to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2021 Elder Fraud Report. In 2021, more than 92,000 victims over 60 reported total losses of nearly $1.7 billion, 74% more money than the previous year.
States with large numbers of UFT retirees were some of the hardest hit, with losses totaling $224.2 million in Florida, $188.1 million in New York and $87.5 million in New Jersey. California victims lost the most — $427.3 million.
In December 2021, John Soldini, a Retired Teachers Chapter executive board member, opened a “friendly looking” email from a teacher he knew. He contacted the sender after receiving a second email and learned the person had been hacked. Soldini wanted to notify his contacts about what had happened, but his email address book had been wiped clean. Some contacts got emails purportedly from him saying he was sick and inviting gift donations; others got emails purportedly from Soldini saying he had a sick cousin who needed help. One contact even got a nasty phone call.
It took many hours of calls and legwork to clean up the mess, from closing and securing bank accounts and calling creditors to explaining the hack to friends. Fortunately, his financial losses were minimal — a few late payment fees.
Soldini, who taught at Tottenville HS on Staten Island, advises other victims to act immediately. “When you don’t look into it right away, that gives the hackers a chance to take more money from you,” he said.
UFT Retiree Social Services Director Christopher Chin said most of the calls his department gets are related to phone scams.
Romance scams, in which criminals pose as potential romantic partners on social media and dating websites, are one of the most common elder-fraud schemes, according to the FBI. Technology support scams are another. Criminals posing as tech support representatives gain remote access to devices and sensitive information.
There are many more varieties of scams, such as criminals posing as government employees who threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they pay money.
“For most of them, we can identify at least one retiree who has fallen victim or heard about it or received a call,” Chin said.
He and attorney Steve Kramer of Feldman, Kramer and Monaco, which administers the UFT Welfare Fund’s Retiree Legal Plan, make a presentation at legal plan meetings about how people can protect themselves and what to do if they are victims of identity theft.
Chin advises retirees to be suspicious and wary and not to give out information when they receive an unsolicited phone call.
“If you feel threatened by anything, you can always hang up,” he said.
Even after everything he went through, Soldini is still vulnerable. He recently was going to respond to a neighbor’s email but called the neighbor instead. It turned out she had been hacked and had not sent the email.
“You have to be on the alert,” he said, “and even when you are on the alert, you can get hit.”