GREENVILLE — A representative from the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine spoke with residents at the Brethren Retirement Community last week about the prevalence of scams and other forms of fraud which target seniors.
“One of the best ways to fight fraud and scams is to have up-to-date information,” DeWine said in a recorded message played at the beginning of the presentation.
Danielle Murphy, a Consumer Educator for the office of Consumer Protection Services in Columbus, said that while seniors make up only 15 percent of the population, they represent 30 percent of reported victims of fraud.
“Seniors are trusting and polite — they’re not as likely to just hang up on someone, the way a younger person might do,” Murphy said. “And they have more assets, and scammers know that. They’ve worked hard all their lives, investing and putting away money.”
Seniors are also less likely to report fraud, Murphy said, as they may be embarrassed at having been taken advantage of, and in fact, may not even realize that they’ve been victimized in the first place. They are also often independent and isolated, having little contact with family or friends.
Murphy outlined several types of scams that commonly target seniors, including:
- The Grandparent Scam, in which an unknown person calls claiming to be a senior’s estranged grandchild, often asking for money as a result of an injury or car accident.
- Imposter Scams, in which callers pretend to be representatives of a victim’s bank or the IRS, even going so far as to threaten jail time if their target doesn’t immediately provide them with payment information to resolve the supposed issue. Murphy cautioned that scammers can even use a device that fools the victim’s caller ID, making their calls appear to actually be coming from the organization they claim to be calling from.
- Sweepstakes Scams, in which victims are asked to send a check covering taxes or fees in order to claim a lucrative prize or inheritance.
- Fake Check Scams, in which victims are asked to deposit a check and keep a portion of the proceeds for their trouble, forwarding the rest to a fraudulent third party. When the check inevitably fails to clear, the victim is often left on the hook with their bank for the remaining balance.
- Tech Support Scams, in which a caller or online support person asks to be given remote access to a victim’s computer in order to remove a supposed virus or malware. The scammer then takes the opportunity to steal the victim’s bank information, passwords, and so on.
- And, finally, the Sweetheart Scam, in which seniors are often taken for thousands of dollars over many years by people with whom they’ve pursued a long-distance romantic relationship online.
Murphy offered a number of tips for how to avoid falling victim to scams.
“Have conversations with friends and family,” Murphy said. “Come up with a code word or nickname to verify that a call is coming from someone you trust. If you get a call from a grandchild you haven’t heard from in a long time, call another family member and ask. ‘Did Brandon move to another city? Has he been in a car accident?’”
Murphy also encouraged residents to never send money in the form of a gift card, prepaid money card, or wire transfer; to watch the mail for unfamiliar bills, and avoid disposing of older bills without shredding them first; to beware of callers who ask them to keep the conversation a secret; or those who put pressure on them to act immediately for fear of some grave consequence.
“If someone calls asking for money or sensitive information, just say, ‘I’m busy, but I’d be happy to call you back when I have time,’” Murphy said. “No need to leave your number. I know how to get in touch with you.”
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