A Nigerian prince wants your help transferring millions of dollars to the United States. An email from the government asks you to click and confirm your Social Security number and banking information to collect some unclaimed property. An offer on Craigslist suggests you make some easy money working from home, if you will only send a money order for $199 to register for the program.
Which one is a scam? All of them. And there are many, many more.
Local authorities would like to protect seniors from being targeted by hucksters looking to take advantage of the trusting in order to make a quick buck.
“It’s such a shame,” said State College police Lt. Chris Fishel. He described a familiar scam, where a grandmother gets a call from far away. The caller says he is her grandson, but it’s hard to identify his voice. He says the right name, though. He knows other family members’ names. He says he is in trouble, and the only person who can help him is her. Please, Grandma, send me money right away.
But none of it is true.
Fishel says that the Internet makes it easy to access just enough information to seem plausible on the phone to someone worried about a loved one.
Pennsylvania has nearly 2 million residents older than 65, and according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Unit, they are the favored target for many kinds of fraud. Sometimes it might be because they are easy prey when it comes to a con capitalizing on alleged family ties. Other times, it might be taking advantage of a lack of familiarity with technology.
Kelly Aston, State College police community relations officer, said that locally, lottery and sweepstakes scams are seen frequently with seniors as the target.
The victim will be told she has won a windfall prize. All she needs to claim it is to pay the taxes, or a fee that seems like peanuts in comparison. But the prize isn’t real, and that money is gone with the grift.
AARP calls these kinds of crimes “the most common scams hitting older Americans.”
Education and awareness are the best weapons in the fight against this breed of financial attack.
“Educating seniors about crime and how to avoid it is the best way we can help seniors to help themselves,” according to the Attorney General’s website. That is where seniors, and families, friends and caregivers, can get information about Senior Crime Prevention University. “Our goal is to make Pennsylvania’s older population aware of the threat of fraud to the elder community, teach them how to avoid being victimized; and to make sure they know who they should call when they are concerned about their safety and well being. Educating seniors about crime and how to avoid it is the best way we can help seniors to help themselves. The theme of the Senior Crime Prevention University is ‘AWARE, AVOID, ALERT.’ ”
Closer to home, State College police also offer educational programs, working with senior groups and in nursing and personal care homes.
Seniors can also reach out for help by calling the attorney general’s Elder Abuse Hotline at 866-623-2137. The Pennsylvania Senior Law Helpline at 877-727-7529 is another good source of legal information and advice from attorneys.