Avoiding senior citizen phone scams

Local group reports uptick in scams targeting the elderly

By Tim Colliver - [email protected]

According to Harold Showalter of the Presbyterian Brotherhood of Adams, Brown and Highland counties, whose home church in Russellville will be hosting a seminar Monday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. on phone scams involving older adults, the most common are ones that tug at the heartstrings.

He told The Times-Gazette that he had firsthand knowledge of how they work, since a few weeks ago a con artist called the 85-year-old Lake Waynoka man and his wife, and tried to pass himself off as Showalter’s grandson.

“My wife was very clever and asked him what his name was,” Showalter said. “After that he hung up, but what they’ll do is try to keep the conversation going and get information from you, and then spin some tale of an accident that happened, or they’re in the hospital or in jail, or something like that.”

Due the shrewdness of his wife, Mary Rae, the scam didn’t go very far and the subject of money never came up. But Showalter said typical losses in that type of scam are usually in the range of $9,000, a figure reflected in a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Former Brown County Auditor Dallas Hurt, an elder at the church, said the church has a large membership base in the Mowrystown area and got involved due to several calls that were received where the caller claimed to be a close relative who was in an emergency situation and needed money sent to them or their “attorneys” immediately.

“We had several people who were contacted back in the spring by this phone scamming operation,” Showalter said. “And there were two widowed ladies who were so taken in by this scammer that they actually went to the bank and one withdrew a large of sum of money and sent it via FedEx to a destination in New York state, thinking she was helping her grandson.”

He said the other woman, in the process of withdrawing funds from her bank, was convinced by a teller that it was a scam and didn’t go through with it.

“As it turned out, the first lady realized what had happened after the fact,” he said. “So she contacted law enforcement authorities who stopped delivery of the money at the other end and got it returned to her.”

As it turned out, both women were very fortunate, but came close to being victims of the “grandparent scam.”

The FTC found that an increasing number of older adults are mailing cash to scammers, who often ask seniors to divide the bills into envelopes and place them between the pages of a magazine, and then send them via UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.

The fight against telephone fraud that targets the older population will be joined Monday, Oct. 21 at the church, located at 115 E. Main St., Russellville. The program starts shortly after 7 p.m. featuring U.S. attorney Timothy Landry, a special assistant for the Southern District of Ohio with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Landry handles both elder and Social Security fraud cases, Showalter said.

The FTC report noted three specific scams that have targeted seniors:

• The Social Security spoofing scam — There’s been a significant uptick in fraudulent telephone calls from people claiming to represent the Social Security Administration (SSA).

An unknown caller will make the threat that they face arrest or other legal action if they fail to call a provided phone number or press the number indicated in the message to address the issue.

Sometimes, the tactic is switched to make the victim believe that the caller wants to help them re-activate a “suspended” Social Security number.

They may even “spoof” the actual Social Security hotline number to appear on the recipient’s phone: 1-800-772-1213.

Both the FTC and SSA advise that if a call like that is received, hang up immediately. The SSA said that the agency rarely contacts persons by phone unless there is ongoing business with them, and they never make threats about arrest or legal actions.

They recommend reporting suspicious calls to the SSA Office of the Inspector General by calling 1-800-269-0271, or submitting a report on the OIG website.

•The grandparent scam, which has been around for several years, involves a person calling an older adult pretending to be a grandchild who’s been involved in an accident or legal trouble, and needs money immediately.

Recently, the FTC warned people to not act right away if a caller employed this scam, but to call the child or grandchild back on a correct phone number and verify their whereabouts.

If cash was already sent, they advise to report it right away to the shipping company that was used, indicating that some people have been able to stop delivery by acting quickly and giving a tracking number.

They also recommended filing a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

•The natural disaster scam. The FTC strongly recommended to only work with reputable agencies after a natural disaster, which they said is a golden opportunity for scammers.

Natural disaster scams typically start with unsolicited contact by telephone, social media, email, or in person, with scammers impersonating charities to get money or private information from well-meaning consumers, and will even set up fake websites with names that mimic legitimate charities to trick people into sending money.

Hurt hopes that two things will come out of the Monday night seminar.

“On the local level, I hope that we can alert people to be more on guard and not be gullible enough to fall for something like this,” he said. “And that we can bring enough attention to this so we can motivate the state and federal government to pay more attention to breaking these chains of fraudulent behavior, and locking these people up.”

Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.

Local group reports uptick in scams targeting the elderly

By Tim Colliver

[email protected]