By Mary West
Unfortunately, many cases end tragically with the elderly losing their life savings. Informing oneself concerning scammers and how they work can help protect you from a similar fate. As the adage goes, “forewarned is forearmed.”
In January, a spunky 75-year-old Tennessee woman who was the target of a senior phone scam plot turned the tables on a man who phoned her and said she was the winner of a sweepstakes prize.
Court records show the joke was on him and our feisty 75-year-old ended up exposing a nationwide scam.
This sort of ruse begins when scammers acquire telephone numbers of seniors—something easily facilitated by use of the internet. The scammer then stalks their prey by phoning the targets and endeavoring to con them into revealing their bank information or turn over cash for some nonexistent cause. In this particular scam, the perpetrator used the twist of sending the victim a safe, supposedly filled with money, which could be accessed with a key provided at a later date.
In this case, the Tennessee woman received a call from a man bearing the glad tidings that she was the winner of a sweepstakes. Several phone calls followed, where the scammer pretended to have a personal interest in the woman to gain her trust, then co-conspirator Betty Lou Repka Myers, of Canyon Lake, Texas, shipped the woman a locked safe. At that point, the scammer called his victim and asked her to write two checks that totaled $21,000 and send them to Ms. Myers. He said this would cover the taxes due on her winnings—she complied.
On March 5, Ms. Myers deposited one of the checks into her bank account. One day later, she appeared in Tennessee knocking on the victim’s door and claiming an additional $22,500 was needed. According to a warrant written by Knox County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeff Monroe, Meyers gave instructions to the victim to go to two different SunTrust branch locations to remove money from her account which she was to then give to Myers. With Myers driving, the woman did as she was asked and withdrew the money.
At this point, Myers made a request that aroused the woman’s suspicion. She asked the woman for her cell phone, saying her boss wanted it. Instead of acquiescing to Myers’ demand, the woman called authorities. Knox County deputies retrieved the woman’s money in Myers’s purse, along with one of the checks she had sent to the Texas address. Myers was arrested.
THE ELDERLY ARE COMMON TARGETS OF SCAMMERS BECAUSE THEY TEND TO BE TRUSTING…..
They grew up in a different era, when people often didn’t lock their doors, and a verbal promise was considered a binding commitment. While their trusting ways are a lovely part of their character, these traits can put them at risk.
Moreover, seniors hail from a time when strangers helped each other, so they are likely to be sympathetic to a hard-luck story and want to help—even at great personal expense. Compounding the problem is the fact that many elderly people are isolated, have amassed considerable savings, and aren’t tech savvy. All of this makes them irresistible to merciless scammers.
How to Protect Yourself
Scammers hook their victims by offering fake prizes, services, or products. The bait they use comes in an array of forms such as sham investment opportunities, charitable causes, and foreign lotteries, in addition to extended car warranties and “free” vacation packages. Another scam involves “free” trial offers that fail to mention that subscribers will be billed every month until they cancel.
The main thing to remember is to never give out any personal information over the phone, including your social security number, credit card number, or baNk account number. If a caller asks you to “confirm” any information, refuse to do so because it is a trick.
One of the most recent scams involves the caller asking the question, “Can you hear me?” Most unsuspecting people will say “yes” and the scammer will record this reply and use it to authorize fraudulent charges. If you hear this question when you answer a call, hang up immediately. And remember—the IRS never calls people.
Be alert for other phrases that are red flags. If you hear one of the following, say “No thank you” and hang up:
- You’ve won a valuable prize or large sum of money.
- You need to pay something to get a free gift.
- We’ll shut off your utilities.
- The investment is low-risk but has a high return.
- You need to decide quickly.
- We just want to verify your information.
- You’ve been specially selected for our offer.
- The IRS is going to arrest you.
- Your grandchild is in a foreign prison or hospital.
Rather than using your telephone providers answering service, invest $30 or $40 in an answering machine where you can hear the message being left in real time. Pick up only when you hear it is someone you wish to speak to. You will find that most scammers and telephone solicitation callers hang up when an answering machine is on the other end of their call.
Scammers are often convincing and manipulative. They can sound empathetic and are willing to say anything to get what they want—YOUR MONEY. Alternatively, they can play upon your sympathies in an attempt to get your “help.” Therefore, as a general rule, don’t talk to a stranger on the phone. Though not as efficient as one would hope, you can lower the number of unwanted calls by putting your phone number on The National Do Not Call Registry, at 1-888-382-1222. It can help to get an unlisted phone number, but they are not always as unlisted as we are told.
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