By Jason KUROSU
Senior citizens remain among the more vulnerable and susceptible to fraud and with scams increasing in both quantity and sophistication, state officials and local nonprofits have seen the need to provide outreach on what resources are available and how to avoid scams targeting seniors.
One such effort is the Smarter Than A Scammer event, organized by Santa Monica-based nonprofit Wise & Healthy Aging and held Tuesday at the Glendale Police Dept.
Speakers from law enforcement and state agencies described the more common techniques used by con artists and what seniors should look out for when facing a potential scam.
A common tactic involves telling victims they must pay fees, either for items or money they’ve “won” or to prevent their arrest or other punitive consequences.
U.S. Postal Inspector Renee Focht said that this often works, even when victims are told they’ve won prizes in contests they never participated in.
“Maybe I did win and how great would that be? Because I can help my child with a down payment on a home. I can pay for my grandchild’s education. And so there’s this heightened emotion that they use to get you to fall for the crime,” said Focht.
Scammers use familiarity with legitimate, reputable organizations to collect fake fees or solicit donations to false charities (for example, claiming to be from the “National Cancer Society,” as opposed to the actual organization, the American Cancer Society.)
However, many of these organizations do not require fees to collect winnings, nor do they demand money over the phone.
“You never have to pay a fee upfront. You never have to pay taxes upfront to collect your prize,” said Focht.
Victims are often called by supposed law enforcement officials or IRS employees, who tell them they will be jailed unless they pay, whether it’s money owed or as part of a penalty for committing a crime.
Glendale Deputy Police Chief Carl Povilaitis assured audience members that if they did commit a crime, a heads-up phone call from the police would certainly not be part of the arrest process.
“Trust me, if there’s a warrant for your arrest, they’re not going to call you. They’ll just show up.”
Cold calls were a common thread during the event and being careful when receiving or responding to unsolicited phone calls or emails was identified as key to avoid falling prey to scams.
“We have to stop and think, when we are receiving the phone call, that’s our red flag,” said Jackie Wiley-Sistrunk of the Department of Business Oversight.
Unsolicited calls are used in the Grandparent Scam, when victims are called by “relatives” in need, often in trouble with the law and requiring money for bail.
“‘Hi, it’s me! Grandma, it’s me!’ You might say, ‘Jackie, is that you?’ You have just given the caller the name,” said Wiley-Sistrunk, demonstrating how scammers might initiate the Grandparents Scam. “So now they’re going to take off with the information. ‘Yes, Grandma, it’s me, Jackie and please don’t call Mom or Dad. I got into some trouble with my friends. Yes, we were drinking and I got pulled over. I really need you to send me $1,000 right now before they take me to jail.’”
Jury duty scams are used to extract personal information, as victims are told they may have missed jury duty, but could have the mishap cleared up with a quick records check. Social Security numbers, naturally, are required.
Just like law enforcement, public agencies such as courts or the IRS will not call to warn of violations, said Dep. District Attorney Belle Chen.
Chen described perhaps the most tragic aspect of these crimes, that though perpetrators may be punished, victims parted with their money have little chance of ever recovering it.
“What I absolutely hate about these scams is how they make victims feel, how it makes people doubt themselves, second-guess themselves, not trust their own judgment,” Chen said.
Preventive measures recommended at the event included things like getting credit cards with EMV chips or shredding mail.
Matt Zakarian of the Glendale Police Dept. recommended services offered by consumer credit reporting agencies, such as security freezes, which lock bank accounts should you notice erroneous charges.
But simply staying aware of one’s money and always questioning why someone might be contacting you was touted as more valuable than any paid service.
“Monitor your credit, monitor your credit and did I mention monitor your credit?” Zakarian said.
Chen said watching credit and bank statements closely for any unusual charges was important for not only detecting fraud, but ensuring any chance of recovering the money.
Chen said that banks have different deadlines for filing fraud affidavits and if someone is not keeping abreast of the activity on their credit card, fraud claims may be too late.
Wiley-Sistrunk urged the importance of verification of incoming callers before making any decisions. That verification could be ensuring your grandchildren are actually out of the country when they call for help or double=checking that your bank actually is seeking payments from you.
“Do your homework,” she stressed.
Resources are available for seniors seeking aid for financial fraud, elder abuse or medical services at www.wiseandhealthyaging.org