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Scams in the spotlight

With financial exploitation on the rise, it’s crucial to understand what today’s scams look like and how to protect yourself.

David Saracino

When Norma* opened her computer one day last summer, she found she couldn’t log in. Instead, on the screen was a message that her computer had been hacked and that she needed to call Microsoft to fix the issue. Not knowing what else to do, she called the number provided. But instead of addressing her tech problem, Norma was told her family was tied up in a money laundering scheme being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). She was told she could go to jail—unless she handed over her life savings for the FBI to “secure” until they issued her a new identity.

“I was scared out of my mind,” says the 76-year-old retired educator from Maryland. “[The scammers] knew my name, they had my family members’ names and they told me not to say anything to [my family] so they wouldn’t be involved.”

The scammers first went after Norma’s bank accounts, telling her to make up stories about why she needed to withdraw large sums and to bounce around to different bank branches to avoid raising red flags. When her bank accounts were mostly depleted, they turned to her investments, like her $150,000 mutual fund with Thrivent.

During a meeting with her Thrivent Financial Advisor Arnold Abel, Norma requested to liquidate her mutual fund to pay off her two daughters’ student loans. But when she couldn’t answer a question about the school loan balances, Abel dug deeper.

“She was nervous, and I could tell something was going on, that she was not being truthful with me,” Abel says. “People don’t usually take large sums of money out of their accounts to pay off loans when they don’t even know how much they are. I told her, ‘I know you’re getting scammed.’”

Abel recognized he needed to contact Thrivent’s Vulnerable Adult Office to report the red flags of possible exploitation and to seek advice on how to proceed. Deb Martin, manager of Thrivent’s Vulnerable Adult Office, reached out to Norma’s daughter, who is her trusted contact on record at Thrivent. She agreed to connect with her mom to find out what was going on.

Eventually, with the help of Thrivent, Abel and family members, Norma got in touch with local law enforcement and reported the scam—but not before losing nearly $180,000. Reflecting on that time, she says she’s so grateful for the support from her family, who helped walk with her through the aftermath.

“Even though I lost money, I still have a good credit rating. My house is paid off. I don’t have any credit card debt,” Norma says. “It’s not like I’m destitute. I’m just not as wealthy as I was before.”

And she believes she would have been totally penniless if Thrivent hadn’t intervened.

Although these scams can happen to anyone, the older generation typically has more money. These generations are much more trusting. ... These criminals focus on isolation and loneliness.
Deb Martin, manager of Thrivent's Vulnerable Adult Office

Financial scams on the rise

Norma’s story is all too common. According to a recent “Elder Fraud Report” published by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, government impersonation scams cost victims over 60 years old $136.5 million in 2022 alone.

“Although these scams can happen to anyone, the older generation typically has more money,” says Martin, who notes the actual numbers of victims and losses are estimated to be much higher due to unreported financial crimes. “These generations are much more trusting. People didn’t do stuff like this when they were growing up. These criminals focus on isolation and loneliness.”

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that people 60 and older are spending more time online, and criminals are taking advantage of their unfamiliarity with technology. In the “Elder Fraud Report,” tech support scams were, by far, the most common type of crime for this age group, affecting 17,810 people—up from 9,429 people in 2020—and totaling $588 million in losses.

Other common financial scams include:

  • Government impersonation: Like Norma experienced, government impersonation scammers pretend to call you from a government agency, like the FBI, Social Security Administration or IRS. They say something bad will happen—you’ll go to jail, for example—if you don’t pay.
  • Romance/confidence: Often posing as military or a trades person working overseas to avoid meeting face-to-face, these scammers develop fake online personas to gain the trust and affection of their victims before asking for money for emergencies.
  • Grandparent: Similar to a confidence scam, where there’s trust between the scammer and the victim, a grandparent scam involves the scammer impersonating a loved one who is in trouble and needs money. These scams have become even more convincing in recent years due to artificial intelligence that can mimic anyone’s voice.
  • Lottery/sweepstakes/inheritance: The victim is told they’ve won a prize or inherited a large sum of money, which they can only access if they pay taxes and fees upfront, or if they give up their identity and bank account information for direct deposit.
  • Investment: Victims are asked to tap retirement accounts, home equity or credit cards, and put their money into low-risk investments with guaranteed returns. Investment scams often take the form of pyramid schemes, market manipulation or real estate investing. More recently, criminals have been using cryptocurrency for their investment scams, asking victims to purchase crypto, like Bitcoin or Ethereum, and transfer it to their digital wallet.
  • Non-delivery: Fake advertisements entice people to order and pay for items online. They either never receive the order or get something completely different from what was advertised.
  • Gift cards: Posing as a business or government agency, the scammer will request payment in gift cards, telling their victim to send them the numbers on the back of the cards.

In 2022, a total of 88,262 victims over age 60 lost $3.1 billion, or an average of $35,000 per person—the highest loss amount of any age group.

“Billions of dollars go to these scam people every year. That’s why they do it. And the likelihood of them getting caught and going to jail is very limited,” Abel says. “They call it a nonviolent crime, but I call it a very violent crime.”


What to do if you've been scammed

It's important to report any cases of suspected fraud. Even if you’re not able to recover your money, your report can help law enforcement agencies further their investigations and shut scammers down.
Illustration of people chatting with a word bubble
Tell someone you trust.
Reach out to a family member or friend, your attorney or your Thrivent financial advisor, especially if the scammer tells you not to talk to anyone. They can advise you and walk you through next steps.
Secure your computer and accounts.
Make sure anti-virus software is installed and up-to-date and change all your passwords.
Report it.
Consider reporting it to the local police, the FBI, Federal Trade Commission, the Internet Crime Complaint Center or other agencies. If you’re unsure where to start, consider the FTC or usa.gov site.
Notify bank, credit bureaus.
Your bank may be able to freeze your account or cancel fraudulent transactions. The three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—can add a fraud alert to your credit report.

Safeguarding against scams

While those 60 and older are most often the targets of scams, anyone can be a victim of these financial crimes. “It’s not just the elderly. It’s not people who are unintelligent,” Martin says. “These scammers play on emotions, and they’re experts at it.”

Here, Martin offers tips for keeping your financial information protected:

  • Look for red flags. If the person you’re speaking with says not to tell anyone about your conversations, refuses to video chat with you or asks for money, they may be a scammer.
  • Never give out personal information. You likely know not to give out your Social Security number, address or bank account numbers to someone you don’t know, but you still may be handing over your personal information inadvertently when online shopping or playing popular games on social media sites.
  • Don’t answer random calls. Whether you know the number or not, don’t pick up the phone if you’re not expecting a call. Let the caller leave a voicemail or send you a text, then you can get back to them. If someone gives you a number to call, don’t use it. Look up the number yourself to verify it’s legitimate.
  • Don’t click on links. If you’re sent an email or a text with a link or attachment from someone you don’t know, don’t open it. This is known as phishing, a way to download a virus onto your technology devices or steal your personal information.
  • Be cautious about how they want to receive money. If anyone asks you to pay in gift cards or cryptocurrency, it’s likely a scam.
  • Name a trusted contact on your Thrivent account. A trusted contact is like an emergency contact—someone who knows you well and can check on you or answer questions about you if Thrivent has a concern regarding your physical, mental or financial well-being.

A year after the scam, Norma is more vigilant about protecting her personal information. Every morning when she checks her Thrivent and bank account balances, she says a silent “thank you” to Abel for putting a stop to her scammer.

“Arnold knew something was wrong, and he was not going to let up,” she says. “It would have ended with me not having any money at all. If I had lost my Thrivent mutual fund, I would be in hot water. This was not just a mini scam.”

Taylor Hugo is a freelance writer in Colorado.

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How Thrivent can help

Identity monitoring and protection

Thrivent clients with membership are eligible for three types of identity monitoring and protection services through Experian®.

  • Experian ProtectMyID® Select: Thrivent covers the cost for up to 2 years and includes Experian Credit Monitoring, Experian Credit Report, Identity Theft Insurance, Full-service Identity Restoration, and Lost Wallet Protection.
  • Experian ProtectMyID®: AT Thrivent member-only pricing and includes Tri-Bureau Credit Monitoring, Experian Credit Report, Identity Theft Insurance, Full-service Identity Restoration, Lost Wallet Protection, Social Security Number trace monitoring, Change of Address Monitoring, and CyberAgent Dark Web Monitoring.
  • Experian ProtectMyID® + Family: At Thrivent member-only pricing and includes the same services as the Experian ProtectMyID® plan for two adults and up to 10 children.

Explore the three types of services and compare the benefits here.

Designate your trusted contact

Talk to your Thrivent financial advisor or download the trusted contact authorization form.

Add security alerts

Contact your Thrivent financial advisor or contact Thrivent at 800-847-4836 to have additional security measures added to your accounts.

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*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the client.

Member benefits and programs are not guaranteed contractual benefits. The interpretation of the provisions of these benefits and programs is at the sole discretion of Thrivent. Membership benefits are reviewed and evaluated regularly. Thrivent reserves the right to change, modify, discontinue or refuse to provide any of the membership benefits or any part of them, at any time.

You should never purchase or keep insurance or annuity products to be eligible for nonguaranteed membership benefits. You should only purchase and keep insurance and annuity products that best meet the financial security needs of you and your family. Consider the cost, features and benefits of specific insurance and/or annuity products.
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