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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Coronavirus and How It’s Targeting Our Parents

Rania Mankarious
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Rania Mankarious

Rania Mankarious is executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston(Photo: lawellphoto.com)

The coronavirus has uprooted all our lives but it seems to have placed a special target on the elderly - a group more fondly known as our parents. Between health concerns and scams that directly target them, I am concerned. Actually, there are many things that concern me - aging parents in nursing homes who may be at an increased risk for contracting the disease; regular doctor appointments or procedures that have had to be placed on hold because of facilities are closed; and of course, the scammers who are focused on using the chaos and fear to gather their identify, bank accounts, property and more. There’s a lot to think about - and for the sake of your parents and mine, it’s really up to us to know the risks and what to do to keep them safe, proactively. Let’s dive in.

Coronavirus and the effects on the elderly: 
Researchers estimate that - based on what we know - the coronavirus kills roughly 0.3 percent of those in their 40s, 1.25 percent of those in their 50s and 4 percent of patients in their 60s. That percentage more than doubles as patients hit 70 with 8.6 percent dying of the virus. We face another nearly doubling to an estimated 13.4 percent once patients hit 80 or older.

There are many reasons why the older generations face an increased risk and knowing the statistics - they are afraid for their own well-being and we, their children, are equally concerned. Near and far and across social media posts, we join the doctors and public health experts who are urging all, but especially those 70+, to stay home, limit access to outside items, wash hands, wear masks, gloves and do their best to limit contact with their face, eyes, and mouth. Not only is the outcome from contracting the disease potentially deadly but the treatment is incredibly isolating - creating a fearful situation for all but especially for our parents. 

In addition to health concerns, however, there are other issues we must face. To put it simply, scammers are dialing for dollars and creating many other ways to target this golden generation, a group of people we love so very much.  

Dialing for Dollars - How the Elderly are Prime Targets: 
It’s always the case - during times of tragedy, there are those who dive in to help and others who dive in to scam. Their targets are those who have the most to lose, are the most frightened, fear the downturn in the economy, possibly live alone, are the least computer savvy and generally are the most in need of assistance.  Posing as reputable outfits, companies and organizations, scammers will call, email or even go door-to-door. Their most common strategies are listed below along with tips to keep all safe proactively. 

  • Health and wellness. Scammers will be calling, emailing and potentially showing up at peo-ple’s homes pretending to issue coronavirus testing, treatment or vaccines. Please remember: currently, there is no cure or vaccines or remedies against coronavirus. Don’t let scammers use fear to sell bogus products. Be wary of anyone using terminology such as “just announced,” “FDA approved,” or “pre-market,” - these are not real items, do not work and are mere ploys to get your money. Additionally, be careful of those who ask you to click and enter personal med-ical information. These are phishing attempts that lead to financial theft or identity theft. Be especially wary of those who knock on your door offering testing, masks, gloves or remedies. Unless you know the person at your door, never open. And no matter what medical information is being offered to you, always check with key organizations such as the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization and The White House for important updates on everything medical related. 
  • Money. With the recent signing of a multi-trillion-dollar federal stimulus plan, scammers are dialing for dollars with the message of connecting individuals to government assistance. Since many people are unaware of the details, they may be thankful for guidance. Please remember: The Federal Trade Commission has made this very clear: the government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money, there are zero fees, zero charges. No one will be calling you for your address (these checks will be directly deposited into your bank accounts) or your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Please remind family members to never give financial information to anyone saying they’re associated with the government. Additionally, be wary of any and all emails, especially those that seem to come from your bank asking you to click and enter financial information to enroll in government assistance. Remember, our children can at this point create emails that steal logos from here or there and seem legitimate. Imagine what sophisticated multi-million dollar criminal enterprises come up with to trick you. Plain and simple - these are phishing emails and if you really stop to exam-ine them, the actual email addresses are fake, the IP addresses have nothing to do with legitimate banks and, at the end of the day, all they are set up to do is steal your money and your identity. If you have a question for your bank, call them directly using the number on your bank card (not an email you’ve received). 
  • Donations to charities or local humanitarian projects. Even though they are in their older years, remember our communities were built on the backs of our parents. There are many who are capable of giving and still want to give - especially during these times. But scammers know this and are quick to create charities with coronavirus-related domain names and editorial calls to action that are so credible, if you are not careful, many can fall victim. Please remember: it’s wonderful to give but the best way to do so is to go to trusted sources and give to established organizations. Verified Nonprofits Responding to the pandemic can be found on Charity Navigator, Charity Watch List or Charity Checker. Another option is to check and see if the organization is listed with the Better Business Bureau. Domain registrars such as Namecheap, GoDaddy and Tucows are vetting coronavirus-related domain names and canceling services for domain owners conducting fraudulent activities. And take it from me, the head of a nonprofit organization, if you are busy serving, especially in the front lines of a pandemic, you have little funds left over to pay for telemarketers. People who call now requesting urgent funds are red flags. And in all cases, never give cash and never wire funds. 
  • Online pastimes. Be wary of online quizzes, chain emails, video memes and games that are related to the pandemic. Sadly, many are embedded with malware or contain links for phishing scams used to gain personal information such as Social Security numbers and banking information. Not too long ago, Nametag.com, the maker of many online quizzes, was found to have breached the data of nearly 120 million users.  
  • Price gauging. The elderly have been targeted by those literally selling or allegedly selling masks or gloves, toilet paper or other “necessary” items. The strategy here is to sell basic items at inflated prices or promise to sell these items, gain your credit card information, but never deliver. Please remember: price gauging at this time is illegal and the Attorney General is taking reports and pressing charges. Additionally, remember that city, county and state officials have repeatedly shared that supplies are continually coming. Additionally, it is never a good idea to make a deal with a stranger in times of need and share your address either for the purposes of supposedly getting items mailed to you or brought to your home by the caller. The elderly are very much targeted this way, it’s our job to remind them not to fall victim. 
  • Investment opportunities. Believe it or not, our parents are also on the call sheets of “investors” seeking investments in must have solutions. Wouldn’t you want to get in on the company that’s discovered the universal cure for the coronavirus? Sure! But sadly, that doesn’t exist and if it did, they’d be working out major deals with the US government and WHO and not calling our mom and dad for funding. Please remember: if it seems too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. Scammers will claim to have remedies, stock options, they may be selling gold coins, or opportunities to build hospitals, treatment facilities or simply get into great deals at an incredible price. Don’t allow family members to fall for this. Experts sadly agree, many of these scams do nothing more than take your money and move onto the next victim. If your parents are really looking to invest, call your family financial planner. 
  • Loneliness. Sadly, scammers also realize that social distancing has left many elderly people either home alone or alone in their nursing homes. Let’s face it, a lot of us are lonely. While universally, there have been wonderful programs developed that link the elderly to students or military via pen pal programs  there are sadly many scammers looking to reach out and build a relationship with seniors at this time. Please remember: these scammers will send letters directly to our parents, spend time listening and building a friendship. Their goals remain the same: extract as much personal information as possible - either about the elderly person’s lifestyle, living conditions, financial background, interests or about their families - their children and grandchildren, investments, assets, etc. We need to talk to our parents about these potential risks and make sure they safeguard their information no matter what. 

I think we can all agree that the coronavirus has given us all a run for our money but very truthfully speaking, it’s really targeted the elderly in more ways than one. This group need us to make sure they remain safe. I know that many of us constantly remind our parents to stay healthy and take every precaution, it’s time we do the same when it comes to potential scams. The scammers will hate us for it but frankly, this daughter is okay with it. 

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