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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Common-sense rules for preventing fraud and scams

Aug 30, 2022 10:51AM ● By William J. Dagendesh

Each year millions of senior citizens fall victim to financial fraud, or schemes designed to steal their hard-earned savings. Seniors are targeted chiefly because most have financial savings, good credit and own their home.

Unfortunately, those who fall victim sometimes choose not to report a crime because they’re unable to supply information to investigators, or they are ashamed. After saving a lifetime to take care of themselves during their later years, elderly victims are often unable to work or save enough to recoup their losses. Some believe their family will lose confidence in their ability to manage their own financial affairs. 

It’s important to understand that these con artists are professional criminals who are highly experienced at manipulating people of any age.

According to Dedra Worley, a detective for the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD), scammers use a variety of methods to trap seniors, such as internet, phone or mail. Some scams are even advertised on TV and radio. You may be familiar with some of these:

• Computer scams: Criminals contact victims over the phone or internet, warning them of a problem on their computer. The victim is led to believe that the deceptive tech guru can “fix” the issue, even though there’s nothing wrong to begin with, so they grant them remote access to their computer. Once they’re in, scammers can access personal information and accounts, and may ask victims to transfer money as payment for solving a fake problem.

• Romance scams: Scammers feed on seniors’ loneliness by contacting them by email or through internet dating websites. They start by offering kind, affectionate words over a period of time to establish a relationship. Then they give a sob story about not being able to pay bills, or needing funds to get home from a foreign country and beg for financial help. The scammer often makes up excuses as to why they can’t meet in person.

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• Grandparent scams: Here, swindlers take advantage of victims by posing as their grandchild. They say they’re in a desperate situation—they’re hurt or in jail, or they need money for car repairs or airline tickets to return home, or rent. They may insist that “grandma” not tell anyone, especially their parents, and stress how urgently the money is needed.

• Check scams: Criminals provide fraudulent checks and request that victims cash a check through their account for a portion of the money and “keep the change.” After the money is received, the bank declines the check. The account owner becomes responsible for the lost money and possibly for completing fraudulent transactions.

Worley, who works in CSPD’s Against At-Risk Adults Unit, recalled a scam where a person sent thousands of dollars monthly via gift cards and wire transfers from another person they only knew through the internet. The recipient—a scammer—said he sent the money to a foreign country to help a number two person receive a much-needed surgery.

“The scammer continued to ask for money to help pay for the person’s doctor’s bills, recovery medicines, therapy, family, rent and food,” said Worley. “The victim refused to believe it could be a scam and continued to send money.” 

The good news is seniors can thwart scammers’ efforts by practicing some commonsense rules. 

1. Don’t answer unknown phone numbers. Wait for the caller to leave a message. Block numbers of suspected scams, or ask the phone company to put alerts on your smart phone to warn of potential scams.

2. If someone you met online asks you for money, tell a trusted friend or loved one, even if the stranger asked you to keep it a secret. Secrecy allows the scammer to manipulate the victim into giving more money.

3. People who are told they are involved in a scam should be open to the possibility that others are trying to help them. 

4. Contact your local bank for assistance with unknown or suspicious checks, wire transfers and purchasing cryptocurrency. It’s best to visit the bank and speak with someone personally.

5. If a caller pressures you to provide your address, birth date, credit card or bank account numbers, Social Security number, or if they send/forward money or pay a debt via gift cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency, you’re being scammed. Don’t provide this information to anyone.

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