United Way Event Helps Seniors Fight Fraud and Stay a Step Ahead of Scammers

FBI Agent Matt Tootle talks on-stage at the Hoover Senior Center about current financial scams that commonly plague elderly Americans.

“These scammers are good,” said FBI Agent Matt Tootle.

He was speaking to more than 150 local seniors who attended the 2024 Fraud Summit at Hoover Senior Center in May. The annual event was presented by United Way’s Area Agency on Aging (UWAAA) in conjunction with Older Americans Month.

Tootle pointed out ways in which scammers often create a false sense of urgency when targeting individuals. And seniors tend to be prime targets. Examples of false scenarios they create include:

  • Urgent notifications about a relative who’s been arrested or in an accident and needs money
  • Someone claiming that your bank account has been hacked and you need to verify all your account information
  • Messages that you’ve won the lottery or a grand prize that must be claimed by sending money

“Your computer’s not going to explode. Your bank account’s not going to be emptied out,” Tootle said. His advice was not to panic but to ask someone you trust to read or listen to the messages. These types of scams are meant to force unsuspecting individuals to act irrationally out of fear and urgency.

And successful fraud is on the rise. Nationally, FBI data says that scams targeting individuals aged 60 and older caused more than $3.4 billion in losses in 2023 — an increase of about 11% from the year prior.

Throughout the day, attendees heard about many different types of fraud and theft, including a variety of property and financial crimes, as well as Medicare fraud and error. In addition to Agent Tootle, the list of speakers included:

  • Beau Stubbs, Chief Financial Crimes Officer, Cadence Bank.
  • Norman McDuffey, Assistant Chief of Police, City of Hoover.
  • Jonathan Chambless, Detective, Hoover Police Department.
  • Faith Pierce, Communications and Public Relations Coordinator, Alabama Securities Commission.
  • Patrick Devereux, PharmD, FMS Pharmacy.
  • Sheree Head, Long-term Care Ombudsman Coordinator, UWAAA.
  • Susan Hackney, Senior Medicare Patrol and State Health Insurance Assistance Program Coordinator, UWAAA.

Ivy Shaw, an attendee who retired two years ago from Regions Bank, said that staying up to date on the latest financial fraud schemes had become a necessary part of her job. And just in the short time that she’s been retired, the new developments in scam techniques are alarming, she said.

“It’s gone to another level,” said Shaw. “What you thought you knew, they’re doing it a different way.” And she said that she’s particularly concerned about scammers now having access to the added element of Artificial Intelligence.

Shaw’s sister Sabrina Phillips said, “It’s scary to me that I live in this kind of world now, but I’m so thankful for seminars like this, that educate me.” She said that she’s still scared but can at least feel better armed with the knowledge of what to look out for and what to do if she falls prey.

Sisters Sabrina Phillips (left) and Ivy Shaw came together to the 2024 Fraud Summit.

All the speakers at the summit agreed that one of the easiest ways that anyone can prevent fraud is to always get a second opinion whenever they are in a situation that sounds fishy. Whether it’s an email, a text message or a phone call that seems questionable, reaching out to a close family member, friend or confidant should be your first course of action.

Additionally, you can call the Area Agency on Aging at 1-800-AGE-LINE (1-800-243-5463). The Alabama Securities Commission is also a great resource where you can learn more about fraud in the state.

The annual Fraud Summit is one of the many ways that United Way of Central Alabama works to support senior citizens. United Way is a hub for senior services, delivering meals, providing in-home assistance with daily living tasks, enabling access to reduced-cost prescriptions, representing seniors in legal matters, supporting family caregivers and more.

For more information, visit https://www.uwca.org/impact/senior-support.