It was an odd request. One that was very much out of character – and downright suspicious.

A group of 18 Kings Highway Christian Church elders each received a text from Interim Pastor George Latimer – or so it seemed – asking them to buy a $300 Nordstrom gift card for his granddaughter. The text said Latimer was too busy to do it himself. It also provided a link to conduct the transaction.

“I had an elder call me and say, ‘This message didn’t sound like you,’” Latimer recalled. “I’m thankful he realized it didn’t seem quite right and that no one clicked on the website.”

Latimer learned the culprit got the elders’ phone numbers from a newsletter published by the Shreveport, Louisiana, church. It’s another example of how resourceful fraudsters can be. Through a process known as smishing, they send a text that appears to be from a trusted person’s cellphone number. And the text, invariably, tries to lure someone into clicking a harmful link or handing over money.

Fortunately, people in the Kings Highway congregation were on guard. And weeks later, the church hosted a fraud-prevention seminar to raise awareness of the latest trends. Don Kimmell, a Financial Wellness Relationship Manager for Regions, led the program, and the dangers of smishing were one of his primary topics.

With increased technology, it becomes more difficult to know who’s on the up and up. And it becomes easier for anyone to gain access to you.
Don Kimmell, Financial Wellness Relationship Manager for Regions

“Fraud can occur in so many ways,” Kimmell said. “With increased technology, it becomes more difficult to know who’s on the up and up. And it becomes easier for anyone to gain access to you.”

Beyond smishing, Kimmell works to raise awareness of elder abuse. From law firms to nursing homes, churches and more, he visits businesses and nonprofits to help people recognize warning signs of financial crimes against older Americans.

“Sessions like this offer an important opportunity to bring things to people’s attention so they can protect themselves, their family members, their residents and their clients,” he said.

That need for protection is widespread – and keeps growing – as Baby Boomers age.

According to the Ageless Alliance, one in every 10 older Americans experiences abuse or elder exploitation each year.

Denis Washington, Market Executive for Regions in Texarkana, Texas and Arkansas, believes raising awareness is the first step in prevention.

“This is a conversation we need to have more frequently,” said Washington. “We can change people’s lives.”

Washington’s passion is shared by Vici Warfield, a Corporate Security Investigator for Regions in Indianapolis.

“To understand how this happens, you first need to understand why it happens,” said Warfield. “Older Americans are part of the ‘handshake generation,’ where people are considered honest and decent and you can take them at their word.”

Warfield said online scammers are adept at establishing a rapport with people who have limited social connections and are seeking companionship.

“Our sense of community looks much different than it used to,” she added. “You may have someone who is a widow or widower, and they don’t live near their family. All it takes is one person with bad intentions to establish a connection with that person via email or text.”

Warfield also noted how embarrassment can result in the abuse lasting longer.

“You may have someone who says, ‘Why did I do that?’” said Warfield. “They may also be fearful their children will remove them from their home when they learn what’s occurred, so they keep it a secret. I tell people, ‘Don’t ever think this can’t happen to someone you know.’”

With so many threats, how can you protect yourself or an older American you care about? Here are some practical tips.

Information is Power: Keep Yours on Lockdown:

“One of the things we see is people who overshare information,” said Warfield. “They tell others they live alone, that their children are out of state. It’s the quickest way to let someone know they may be more susceptible to schemes involving a social connection.”

Warfield recommends sharing personal information only with people you’ve met in person and gotten to know. And don’t share your Social Security number or credit card numbers over the phone unless you placed the call yourself – and even then, only with a trusted organization.

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You:

Consider adding your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. You can visit donotcall.gov or call 888.382.1222 to reduce the number of telemarketers phoning you.

And if something seems suspicious, as it did to the elders at Kings Highway Christian Church, trust your instincts, and check it out. Call the person at a number you know is correct, and ask questions.

Remember, Charity Begins at Home:

Scammers have even resorted to impersonating charities to swindle older Americans. An easy way to ensure you’re supporting a reputable organization is to ask the entity to mail you materials before you donate. Reputable organizations should be happy to do so.

Leverage Available Resources:

You can find additional articles and resources to combat elder abuse courtesy of the National Center on Elder Abuse, the National Adult Protective Services Association, the Ageless Alliance and the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, among others.

Surround Yourself with Trusted Partners:

Take comfort in knowing Regions and the Adult Protective Services are there to provide support when you need it most.

“We partner with Adult Protective Services to ensure people aren’t in any danger, confirm the activity has stopped and ask if someone needs additional assistance,” said Warfield. “It’s about finding good resolutions to help.”