Scammers like to strike when you’re at your most vulnerable. Last week, Nancy contacted me after receiving a strange call just days after losing her husband. The caller claimed to work for the VA.
“She told me she was sorry that my husband had died recently. But she was telling me that we had lost out on getting an annuity with life insurance because in 2016 we hadn’t followed up on a letter that had been sent; that if we gave an annuity, we would collect $20,000,” Nancy said. “She said it had been sent to this address where we’re living now, but I knew it was a fraud because we hadn’t moved in here until a year and a half ago.”
Nancy said the caller became angry and rude, so she hung up.
“She called back and then she said, ‘Look, obviously you can’t understand what I’m telling you on the phone so I’m having a person come to your residence with a packet of official information,’” Nancy said. “That intimidated me because they knew where we lived.
“Then a person called a second time and said, ‘I’m outside. Your entrance door is locked and I can’t get in.’ Well, that was a lie because we live in a retirement community where access is available until late in the evening.”
Nancy thinks the caller was after her money.
Thankfully, Nancy didn’t fall for the scam, but she was strung along for a while so she wants to warn others about the scheme.
“They call you soon after when you’re grieving,” she said. “It really hurt me very, very much because I know from being an Army wife of over 21 years that is not how the military works.”
I reached out to the VA, and a spokesperson told me that the agency is aware that many veterans and their beneficiaries can be targets of fraud. Victims can report the scammer’s phone number to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-382-4357.
I also contacted AARP, which offered some helpful tips for those who recently lost a partner.
First and foremost, understand that scammers do check obituaries so be careful about what information you include. Another way to thwart off scammers is to learn about the bills your partner pays so you will be able to know if something sounds fake.
“It’s critical that you understand the process, the things your spouse does to keep the house going,” said Mark Fetterhoff, AARP ElderWatch. “If you take on different roles, cross-train each other so you can take on that role if need be.”
AARP also advises people to notify credit bureaus and to place a “deceased alert” under your loved one’s name. Be sure to contact Social Security, the Department of Motor Vehicles and all financial institutions as well.
You can report fraud to AARP Foundation ElderWatch, a program with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, by calling 800-222-4444.
If you think you can help others spot scams, you might want to join our Call for Action team of volunteers. Learn more by calling 719-457-8211.