Fraud Watch Workshop Exposes Vulnerability Of Senior Population

Published: May 12, 2018 at 12:00 am


AARP "Fraud Watch" volunteer Henry Stair leads a May 2 workshop sponsored by Newtown Savings Bank that revealed myriad ways scammers too often succeed in ripping off trusting seniors.  (Bee Photo, Voket)
AARP "Fraud Watch" volunteer Henry Stair leads a May 2 workshop sponsored by Newtown Savings Bank that revealed myriad ways scammers too often succeed in ripping off trusting seniors. (Bee Photo, Voket)

In Connecticut, nearly 16 of every 100 residents are over the age of 65. And while 98 percent of those surveyed in a recent Wells Fargo study believe that older people are susceptible to scams and exploitation, only one in ten older Americans feel they are susceptible.

According to presenters at a May 2 AARP "Fraud Watch" workshop sponsored by Newtown Savings Bank, statistics like these motivate scammers and unscrupulous rip-off artists to constantly devise new ways to go after - and far too often succeed in separating older adults from their hard-earned savings.

The event, attended by a dozen or so residents, along with Social Services Director Ann LoBosco, covered a lot of ground in just over an hour.

Based on questions and comments that peppered the presentation by AARP volunteers Henry Stair and Alan Jacobs, many Newtown residents have been exposed to a multitude of existing solicitations that could very well be scams.

From bogus callers purporting to be IRS collection representatives to authentic-looking e-mails and letters baiting recipients to call or reply, those in attendance learned how reacting to these communications signal criminals that responders are ripe for a fleecing.

Mr Stair delivered the bad news: somewhere in the United States, someone's identity is stolen about every two seconds. He explained that it is frequently identity theft that can produce quick money for thieves, and leaves victims spending hours or days trying to repair the damage.

Among the important pieces of advice he offered is, if someone receives a call, e-mail, or text message from a number or party they do not know, it is perfectly fine to simply hang up or not reply.

He implored seniors to ignore these kinds of messages, and to never call back to a number they may see on a caller ID, or in a text message, because scammers are frequently using phone numbers and texts with bank names that look authentic, but are phony.

Among the ways he said scammers are getting personal information that can later be used to convince a senior that a rip-off call is authentic, is by stealing information straight out of their residential mail boxes. No matter how these criminals get personal details to reinforce their ruse, Mr Stair warned, they are well-practiced at using even a couple of key snippets of personal information to get trusting seniors and others to open up their wallets or their bank accounts.

"I'm of a later generation," he said.

"We were raised to pick up the phone when it rings, to be respectful to callers or those who come knocking, and to trust authority," he said. "Today, it's scammers who take full advantage of that."

Lottery Tax Scam

Mr Stair described one Connecticut woman who believed a caller who reached out to congratulate her on winning $7 million in a lottery drawing.

To her, the repeated calls from the alleged agent on the other end of the phone and a compelling story about pre-paying taxes on her winnings ahead of delivering the prize check were so convincing, she ended up funneling him $30,000 out of her savings.

Mr Stair also warned about official looking e-mails or calls from Microsoft or Apple saying the companies need to access computer files to remove detected viruses.

"If you give them permission to access your computer, they'll end up installing a virus instead of removing one," he said.

He showed clips of a jailhouse interview from a convicted scammer - "Jimmy from New York" - who warned, "I am a dangerous person on the phone, and I'm going to take your money."

He went on to say how he and a legion of scammers prey on those who answer their calls and quickly manipulate victims into a highly emotional state. "The crush or the kill is emotionally driven. Logic goes out the window when emotion kicks in. I'm no longer a predator on the phone, I'm Jimmy from New York."

Another way Mr Stair said victims are manipulated is by fear and intimidation, all the more reason, especially for seniors, to have a prevention strategy in place before they ever get called or contacted.

Taking over the podium, Mr Jacobs reiterated: "Never, ever, make a buying decision when you're in a heightened emotional state."

He said many Connecticut residents are victimized by those claiming to be home improvement contractors with surplus materials or workmen who are at another job in the neighborhood.

"They demand payment up front because they are providing such deep discounts," Mr Jacobs said. "But be wary of anyone who comes to your door pressing you to make a decision immediately."

Again echoing Mr Stair's advice, Mr Jacobs said seniors should create and even regularly practice a "refusal script" that can be used with callers or those who come knocking with fabulous opportunities too good to be true.

He also cautioned attendees to never carry their Social Security card with them, and if it is kept at home, it should be locked up and kept secure.

Prevention Tips

Other tips offered by the AARP "Fraud Watch" volunteers included:
*Consider purchasing a micro-cut shredder that turns sensitive documents into untraceable confetti.
*Review all bills and credit card statements as soon as they are received to identify any improper or unrecognized charges.
*Save credit card receipts issued after visiting restaurants and compare them to statements to be sure additional charges or tips are not added.
*Order each of the three credit bureau reports available to consumers for free each year and review them for inconsistencies or unauthorized accounts.
*Do not click on unsubscribe or opt-out links in unfamiliar e-mails - they can trigger a virus or malware download into your computer.
*Never transact sensitive banking or financial business on a phone or mobile device using a public wifi connection.
*Hang up on, or delete computer tech support offers.

Mr Jacobs encouraged "Fraud Watch" attendees to sign up for the federal "do not call" registry. But at the same time, he warned people to be suspicious of calls or contacts from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or other government agencies, asking consumers to re-submit numbers to a do not call system because previous filings have expired.

"The do not call list does not expire," he said. "Calling or clicking on links asking you to resubmit will take you to a scam site."

Finally, Mr Jacobs warned attendees about how fake charity schemes proliferate after large national or global tragedies. He encouraged attendees to not use text replies soliciting charity donations, and to only donate directly to trusted charities and nonprofits.

Before closing, NSB staffer Karin O'Brien reminded attendees that any Connecticut resident over the age of 62 can request a credit freeze be placed on their accounts by their bank at no charge, which will prevent loans or other accounts from being opened illegally.

Mr Jacobs said the service is important because large blocks of personal or financial data stolen in breaches of large companies like Equifax might not be used for several years after they are illegally obtained.

To access most of the information related during the NSB sponsored workshop, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

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