If Rob Stover could write a book to help the elderly avoid financial scams, he would title it, “Sorry, You Didn’t Just Win the Lottery and Other Avoidable Financial Scams.”
As a senior investigator specializing in fraud against elderly and vulnerable adults at PNC, Stover is working at any given time on dozens of cases that involve elder financial abuse.
Every year, more than 30 million U.S. consumers suffer a financial loss due to a scam or fraudulent activity – that’s nearly 14 percent of the adult population. A senior citizen’s chances of being targeted goes up significantly. According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers stole a total of $42 million from the elderly between 2012-2014. On top of that, telemarketing fraud costs victims billions of dollars annually, and most of that money comes from seniors.
Recently, an 88-year-old client was on the verge of losing $12,000 through two solicitation scams when Stover stepped in to recover the cash before it reached the criminals.
Although Stover sees a lot of these scams, the FTC estimates that 84 percent of fraud cases involving the elderly go unreported. "I see exploitation like this every day,” said Stover, who has worked 27 years at PNC. “Many elderly clients are extremely trusting and when they answer the phone, they are often too polite to hang up. I’ve seen more egregious situations where wrongdoers take advantage of a person's inability to make rational financial decisions.”
I often tell seniors to look for these scam red flags when being solicited by someone they don’t know:
S - Sudden/Stranger
C - Contact
A - Must Act Now
M - Money in Advance
- Rob Stover
Lottery scam averted
Stover was notified of possible fraud when alert staff at the Mechanicsburg, Pa., branch created a formal report out of concern for the elderly customer, who lives alone and has no children. The teller recognized the woman’s request for an unusually large cash withdrawal was out of character and proceeded to convince the customer the withdrawal wasn’t prudent. A $14,000 withdrawal was averted at that moment.
A review of the account activity revealed a recent $5,000 cash withdrawal by the customer. That’s when Stover entered the picture. Upon further investigation, he learned the customer mailed the cash in a U.S. Post Office Express Mail envelope to a Florida address. It was clear to him the woman was caught in a “lottery” scam, where the victim is offered a large lottery payout in exchange for paying taxes and other processing fees up front.
Stover contacted the local postal inspector and provided the Florida address. The inspector, who has law enforcement authority within the postal service, placed a “mail capture/recall” on the envelope. The envelope and the $5,000 were recovered before reaching the Florida destination.
Second time not a charm
Unfortunately, this wasn't the last time the client was nearly persuaded to part with her money.
“Once you fall for a scam, it’s like having a target on your back. It’s just a matter of time before the scammers come calling,” Stover said.
Within a day or two of the lottery incident, the client was solicited by phone again. Stover had previously notified several local branches to alert him if the client visited. As suspected, she returned to a PNC branch and withdrew $7,000.
Stover had a hunch that she would return to the Mechanicsburg Post Office to express mail the money. He drove to the Post Office, and the clerk confirmed an elderly woman fitting the client’s description had been there within the hour and mailed the envelope.
“The mail office supervisor understood the situation, and we searched the bins in the back of the Post Office,” he said. “Again, amazingly, we found the envelope that contained the $7,000 still in PNC teller-wrapped straps.”
The envelope was addressed to a contact in Connecticut, a likely “reshipper.” These are people recruited to accept packages containing cash, stolen checks and other merchandise that are “reshipped” to the criminals as part of the scam. "In this instance, the bad guy learned the Florida package was confiscated, so, he told my client to send the next package to a different address.”
All's well that ends well
The $12,000 in cash was returned to the client’s power of attorney for redeposit into a new PNC account,” Stover said. “They were both very grateful to PNC for getting this cash back.”
The two ringleaders in this case were identified and charged federally in California with bank fraud.
Convincing seniors that they are being defrauded can be challenging, Stover said, adding that listening and empathy skills are incredibly important in his job.
“The elderly are especially susceptible because they truly believe they have won something or are helping someone. We have to explain that someone is trying to take advantage of them. Its difficult news to deliver, but I’m proud to be a watchdog on their behalf and to say that I’m here to help.”