Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Senior Scams, Schemes & Swindles
Watch the WZZM13 segment on this topic.
Susan receives an e-mail informing her that her personal information was stolen when Equifax was breached and she should fill out the attached form and return it right away to be protected. Irene gets a phone call from someone who sounds like they may be from the car dealership where she purchased her car three years ago. They say her warranty is expiring and she needs to buy an extended warranty before she has to pay for an expensive repair. Frank enjoys the time he spends on his computer e-mailing family and shopping online. One afternoon a message pops up that a virus has been detected and he should click below to install software to clean it up.
All three of these folks are at risk of financial exploitation. Threats to our financial security can come in the mail, by phone or through our computer. They are increasingly sophisticated and difficult to spot. Our best defense is to stay abreast of new scams and talk about them with our friends, family and neighbors. Scammers count on people staying silent when they get scammed and we can fight back by staying informed and sharing what we know.
Why are seniors a target?
All ages are vulnerable to scams and fraud, but seniors are frequently targeted because they generally have access to cash in the form of retirement savings. They are also more likely to have a landline and be home during the day making them more accessible. Older adults are sometimes more trusting or polite than other age groups, which can make them more likely to stay on the phone and hear the con artist’s pitch and they are less likely to report that they’ve been victimized.
Recent Equifax breach
In the last few months, one of the major credit reporting agencies was victim of a security breach and 143 million Americans were affected. Do not respond to mail, e-mail or phone calls from anyone claiming to be from a bank or credit reporting agency. Instead check to see if you were one of the victims by going to Equifax Security 2017 website. If so, consider putting a credit freeze on your account with all three credit reporting agencies by calling:
- Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
- Experian — 1-888-397-3742
- Transunion — 1-888-909-8872
A credit freeze means that no one (including you) can access your credit report to open new accounts. There is a small fee to put on a credit freeze but it will be well worth it if it prevents identity theft. You can also put a 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting any one of three agencies. Even if you haven’t been a victim, review your credit card and bank statements carefully and regularly check your credit report at Annual Credit Report Website or call 1-877-322-8228.
How do scammers do it?
Fraud and scams take many forms and come into the home through the Internet, telephone and mail. A common tactic is a “phishing” e-mail that looks like it is from a bank or legitimate business, complete with the logo. It states there is a problem or question about an order and asks the recipient to click on a link or open an attachment to get more information, which opens up the victim’s computer to the scammer. The telephone is still a common device used for scams and criminals are now able to “spoof” Caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from an organization you know, such as a utility company or government agency. Requests from questionable charities and notices of lottery winnings are common and can come by phone or mail.
Con artists use certain tactics to get money from their victims, which can serve as warning signs. They appeal to emotions, because if someone is fearful or excited they don’t think logically and their judgment is impaired. Scammers will try to frighten you with threats or a sense of urgency that you have to pay right now. Or they try to get you excited about a chance to win money or save money. Frequently, they ask for payment by pre-paid credit card, green dot card, gift card or wire transfer, because these funds are harder to trace and cannot be stopped once sent. Being aware of these warning signs can help us spot a scam in the making.
Current scams in West Michigan
There are a number of scams currently going around in West Michigan. They include:
- Phone calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS, Michigan State Trooper or the court system demanding payment. None of these agencies ever call when money is owed, so ignore them all.
- Phone call or e-mail from someone claiming to be a family member or friend in trouble. These phone calls are frequently late at night and the caller says they are your grandchild and need money for medical bills or to get out of jail and beg you not to tell their parents. They are very convincing actors and sometimes even know your grandchild’s name. If you’re not sure if it’s real, hang up and call the grandchild yourself or ask them a question only your grandchild knows the answer to, such as the name of your pet.
- Imposters demanding payment for Consumers Energy bill immediately. The scammers are spoofing the Caller ID in many parts of the state.
- Phone sales of fake or overpriced Personal Emergency Response Systems. This is a high-pressure sales call that may begin by saying, “Your family wants you to have this” leaving many to believe that their family member ordered it. It is best to purchase these systems locally from a reputable supplier.
- False computer message of a virus and phone calls from Microsoft imposter that software license needs to be renewed. These hackers are trying to gain access to your computer and will then steal information or lock it up and hold it ransom until you pay them.
- Solicitations for questionable charities. Many claim to be local police or fire fighting organizations but give only a tiny percentage to the cause. Also, fraudulent charities pop up every time there is a natural disaster and try to capitalize on the sympathies of consumers.
- Delivery of a bogus gift intended to steal credit card information. Someone may ring the doorbell with a large gift basket or package and say it was sent as a gift, but since it contains alcohol they need to see an ID or ask you to pay a small handling fee. They give you the gift basket then use the credit card information fraudulently.
When you learn about a scam tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your family and spread the word. The more we talk about scams, the harder it will be for the criminals to carry them out.
Scams, Schemes & Swindles Resource List
- Kent County Elder Abuse Coalition
Phone: (855) 444-3911
- AARP Fraud Watch Network
- Federal Trade Commission
- Federal Trade Commission
Phone: (877) ID-Theft (438-4338)
- IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting
Phone: (800) 829-1040
- Internet Crime Complaint Center (part of FBI)
Research charitable organizations:
Broker Check and Professional Designation look up
Check credit report or put fraud alert/credit freeze on account:
- Annual Credit Report
Phone: (877) 322-8228
More resources and handouts on consumer fraud: