Seniors Study Scam Avoidance 101

Markeshia Ricks PhotoPolice Detective Rosalee Reid told of one scammer who tried to to entice her to give up her personal information so he could attempt to drain her bank account by promising her she’d “won” $750,000 and a white Mercedes Benz.

“So I decided to play along,” she told a group of nearly 20 seniors gathered at Mitchell Library in Westville to learn about financial scams and how to keep their money and identity safe. “I asked, ‘How do I get the car?’ The person said, ‘We can deliver it today.’”

She told the person on the other end of the call that it was snowing outside and she didn’t want that to get on her brand new car.

“He said, ‘We can cover it for you!’”

Long story short, to get the car the person said she had to cover the taxes and insurance, and that was going to cost about $60,000.

“I told him, ‘You said I also won $750,000, right? Why don’t you take the $60,000 out of that and send me the rest?’”

“Needless to say, he hung up on me,” Reid said with a laugh that drew chuckles from the crowd.

The how-top-avoid-scam presentation, which took place last week, was put together in partnership with HomeHaven and Westville top cop Lt. Rose Dell, who said she was seeing a trend in scams targeting seniors.

HomeHaven’s Susan Feinberg said the organization hosts such talks and other events to help seniors avoid isolation and provide opportunities for them to get out and to stay active.

In an hour and a half, seniors learned that the scams they’re running is no laughing matter. Reid said that according to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans lost $905 million in 2017 — $63 million more than in 2016 — to fraud.

Cases of debt collection fraud —the scams where someone calls claiming to be from the IRS, or the U.S. Marshal Service, saying you owe a debt to the government and are facing jail unless you pay — are up 23 percent.

She told the seniors to remember: The IRS is not going to call you, and it’s definitely not going to call you and demand you pay in gift cards. But she understands why some seniors get overwhelmed and pay up. The tactics of the scammers are high pressure. And sometimes they have little bits of real information like a senior’s address.

“They badger you, and you become nervous and just want them to stop,” she said. “They try to put you through it.”

Reid said oftentimes seniors don’t report that they’ve been scammed to law enforcement because they’re embarrassed.

She urged them to look out for scammers who claim they won a contest they didn’t enter, offering to lower a credit card rate but not saying what company they’re from, or offering easy pay for easy work like buying high-end “gifts” for needy kids and being “reimbursed.” 

When it comes to calls about the IRS or lower rate credit card offers, she suggests people call the IRS or a credit card company directly and volunteer no information to the caller. If they leave a message, don’t call them back. And she said definitely be wary of someone calling to say that a close relative like a grandson has been imprisoned or has been kidnapped and needs money to pay bail or a ransom. She said to hang up the phone and try to call the person or call a relative who would know the alleged missing person’s whereabouts.

“If your grandson has been arrested, believe me, he will be calling you,” she said. “He still gets one phone call.”

More sinister in Reid’s mind are the scams in which someone knows a senior or befriends a senior as a way to gain access to personal finances.

Reid prosecuted a former New Haven firefighter who befriended a 95-year-old woman and stole $125,000 by the time she was able to arrest him.  She said he befriended the woman after responding to a call at her house. He would go on to start doing odd jobs around her house. By the time he was arrested he had her power of attorney and had himself written into her will.

“He spent $125,000 of her money and would have gotten $750,000 and her house when she died,” Reid said.

Reid urged the seniors to be wary of people who offer to help them by doing odd jobs around their house or running errands for them that involve handling money. Be very suspicious if that person asks for money, starts to hint about problems paying their bills, or goes on errands involving your money or your having to give them the PIN number for your debit card. Those people may be using their proximity to gain access to their financial information.

And it’s OK to be wary, even if the people making the offer of help are cash-strapped family members. She told them to keep tabs on their money, looking at bank and credit card statements to make sure that money is where it is supposed to be. Reid also advised them to shred important documents and keep their information safe.

“You have to give them consent,” she said when it comes to things like powers of attorney and wills. “If you don’t give them consent, they’re breaking the law.”

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posted by: EarlyBird on February 5, 2019  12:54pm

We finally had to drill it into an elderly parent that they were NOT to answer the phone unless they knew the number. Make sure the seniors in your life have Caller ID and learn to use it.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 5, 2019  2:40pm

How about scammers that take the people money who work in Government.

posted by: Hill Resident on February 5, 2019  3:08pm

Great job Det. Reid and Ms. Feinberg. Our seniors need all the protection they can get. We also need to be aware of the ‘secret shopper scam. The scammers will send you a check and ask you to deposit it into your bank account and then buy selected items and send them to them. Of course, it turns out the check is no good and you are on the hook with the bank. Or before you even shop, they tell you they have enough shoppers, you can keep $200 and send them the rest. Again, the check is not good and your end up owing the bank. this one has caught a few people, often posting ads in the classified or Craig’s List.