How this 83-year-old nearly got scammed out of $10,000
By Katie Lobosco
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — John Gutz walked into a Sam’s Club one day to buy $10,000 in gift cards.
He planned to bring them home and read the card numbers over the phone to a man who claimed he’d accidentally transferred $10,000 into Gutz’s bank account. The man pleaded with Gutz to return the money as quickly as possible, and suggested the gift card scheme as an easy solution.
The 83-year-old Gutz was convinced the man’s job was in jeopardy and wanted to help. He even raised his credit limit to buy the cards and return the money quickly.
Luckily his daughter, Julia Gutz Moller, called to check in that day before he handed over the card information.
“I said, ‘Dad, this is a scam.’ And he said ‘No, Julia, it’s not. I have to help this man,'” she told CNNMoney.
That wasn’t the only time Gutz had been targeted. Scammers first started calling him shortly after his wife died. At first, they claimed his computer had a virus and they would fix it for $500. They were persistent. Sometimes the phone would ring multiple times in one hour, and Gutz finally cracked under the pressure.
“They knew Mom died and they really laid into it, telling Dad that he wouldn’t want to lose access to emails, photos and memories or be a burden to his family,” Julia said.
He handed over his credit card number, and a link he clicked on in an email sent by the fraudsters gave them access to his computer.
Financial scams aren’t new. But as the Baby Boomer generation gets older, more retirees are becoming targets.
“Elder financial abuse is becoming more commonplace, and unfortunately, it also appears to be greater than we thought in both scope and impact,” said Walter White, the President and CEO of Allianz Life.
About 37% of people surveyed recently by the insurance company said the senior they cared for had lost money because of financial abuse. They lost $36,000 on average.
Even if the incidence rate stays the same, we’ll see more seniors scammed as the over-65 population continues to grow, White said.
Eventually, they fraudsters agreed to refund Gutz the $500 for the computer virus scam– but they asked for his bank account number in order to transfer him the money. They then used that to get an advance from his credit card and make the “accidental” transfer of $10,000 into his account.
Julia convinced her father that this, too, was a scam. He was able to return the cards, but is still working on clearing the charges associated with the credit card advance. He tossed the computer the fraudsters had access to and bought a new one.
“He’s a smart man, and he knew how these kinds of scams worked. But the fraudsters wore him down and preyed on his fear of losing independence,” Julia said.
It’s not just about losing money. These scams are time-consuming and stressful for the seniors they target. Gutz was hounded by phone calls and emails over the course of two years. At one point, he and his daughter were on the phone with his bank for four hours. Straightening everything out required in-person visits to the branch, paperwork, and updating account information and passwords.
They notified the local police and FBI, but no one was ever caught. It’s often difficult to track down the perpetrators of telemarketing scams. In this case, the fraudsters called Gutz from different phone numbers from all over the country.
Julia is determined to help other people learn from their experience and volunteers her time with Allianz’s Safeguarding Our Seniors program. They train employee volunteers to go out into senior communities to raise awareness about financial scams.
It’s not uncommon for a fraudster to offer computer help, like they did with Gutz, as well as home repairs or yard work. Other typical scams claim you’ve won the lottery or sweepstakes, ask for a donation to a charity, and present too-good-to-be-true investment schemes. CNNMoney uncovered the psychic at the center of a massive mail scam that ran for decades across several continents.
Julia’s biggest piece of advice is to prepare for an incident like this before it happens, and even suggests running a “fire drill.” That way you’ll know what user names, passwords and other security information you’ll need and who to call in case your bank account is hacked or credit card number falls into the wrong hands.
What set Julia back during the incident was that she didn’t have access to all of her father’s accounts. That meant that the bank wouldn’t help her over the phone and that they both had to show up in person.
While scams from strangers are scary and prevalent, about half of elder financial abuse might be perpetuated by family members or close friends, according to Allianz. These types of incidents go under-reported, and are complicated. But it might be helpful for seniors to have more than just one person in their “trusted circle,” who they can talk to about their financial situation, White said.
If you think you or someone you care for has been a victim of financial abuse, contact the Adult Protective Services Association to report the incident.