Senior Scene : Scams & Frauds

Serene Karplus, Nederland.  Impostor scams and identity theft steal over a billion dollars a year from innocent Americans. In the past twelve months at least 1 in 10 adults reports being victimized by a scam (or attempted scam). In Boulder County alone, the past year generated over 800 reports just from seniors regarding such crimes. In the last week of July, the Boulder District Attorney’s office received 29 reports from our local citizens.

 

Jane Walsh, an attorney with the Boulder DA’s Consumer Protection Division, met with our lunch group last week and shared with us stories of the never-ending work of the eighty staff members, thirty of which are Deputy DA prosecutors. With tens of thousands of dollars still transferring from seniors to scammers in this county every week, the staff pursues all leads aggressively and works to educate us to prevent such crimes.

 

One of the continuing scams that concerns Jane Walsh is construction and maintenance work by scammers who appear to offer a reasonable estimate, then charge far more than market price or the estimate, then standing over the individual writing the check to pressure them in to paying far more than expected. She asked us to watch out for elderly neighbors and be aware of white pickup trucks, especially those with out-of-state or temporary plates.

 

She also worries about the casual use of credit cards when workers at unfamiliar restaurants take them out of sight (not allowed in Europe), as they can furtively snap a cell phone photo of the front and back for future use, or workers in someone’s home watching the victim sign a card transaction. She said point of sale store card uses are fine.

 

A recent sting in a Georgia prison confiscated 94 cell phones being used by inmates to perpetrate scams via impostor calls. The scammer calls with any one of the following scenarios and persuades the call recipient to wire funds, buy Green Dot Money Pak cards, or iTunes cards. They only need the information on the cards or wire to separate the victim from their money.

 

IRS: One of the most commonly reported scams is the IRS impostor claiming we owe back taxes and threatening to arrest or deport us or revoke a license if we don’t pay immediately. The IRS will only contact us via U.S. Mail, never by phone, and will never call to “verify” a social security number or bank or routing number.

 

Tech Support: A scammer who claims to be from Microsoft or our internet service provider insists we have a virus or malware infection and he can fix it remotely by accessing our computer or selling us new software. The caller demands money for useless or harmful services, steals the credit card and other identity information, and installs malware.

 

Prizes: These callers or letters claim we have just won cash or a luxury vacation and we just need to pay a “small processing fee” to claim it, but all legitimate sweepstakes are free and it is illegal to ask that we pay a fee or buy something to enter.

 

Grandkid/Friend in Trouble: Hacked email addressed plead for help due to lost luggage, robbery, or false arrest while traveling. Grandparents receive calls from young voices who research personality details on facebook or other sites persuading the victim of their identity, pleading them not to tell their parents on them and begging for urgent help with a medical bill, bail bond, or legal fee.

 

Fake Debts: An official-looking letter in the mail or call from a “law firm” or “government agency” such as the FTC or IRS shows our correct personal information and Social Security number, threatening to arrest us or take us to court if we don’t wire payment or call in a rechargeable money card. How to How To Avoid Impostor Scams:

 

* Don’t answer the phone to unknown numbers. Fake ones look a lot like a familiar number so we think they are local. But be sure your message system works in case it is a friend calling from an out-of-area cell phone who wants to leave a message. Reduce the number of unsolicited calls (they don’t stop) by registering all numbers at www.donotcall.gov.

 

* Never trust a name or number, as scammers use technology to fake the identity of your bank or other trusted source on caller ID. If you do pick up a call, hang up immediately. If you didn’t, never give anyone any information. Always assume it is a scam and use your own resourced phone numbers to call the legitimate source to determine if there is a problem. Do not use the number the caller offers you, but keep it to report promptly to authorities.

 

* Never wire money or purchase and send gift cards or iTunes cards to anyone demanding them.

 

* Contact our local DA’s Community Protection Division at 303-441-3700 to report the scam and, if desired, also call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP or report online at ftc.gov/complaint.

 

 

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All adults are welcome at all Mountain MidLife and Nederland Area Seniors events, attended mostly by folks over age 50. Everyone is invited to all meals at the Nederland Community Center. Please call two days ahead for lunch reservations (a week ahead for dinners and breakfasts if possible) to 303-258-0799.

 

 

Missed the deadline? Call anyway. Costs listed show first the over-age-60 requested anonymous contribution, then the under-age-60. Please note that all over age 60 are welcome regardless of ability to contribute financially.

Serene Karplus

About the Author: Serene Karplus – is the Executive Director of the Nederland Area Seniors, Inc. (NAS) which assists senior citizens in enhancing their quality of life, enabling them to live a life of respect and honor.  This is accomplished through the facilitation of nutrition, transportation, education, recreation, socialization and outreach programs for all seniors living in the Greater Nederland Area. Serene is a contributor to The Mountain-Ear with her Senior Scene column.