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Successful Aging: Phone scams call on us to be more diligent about fraud directed at older Americans

Q: Someone called my mom claiming to be my son; he was crying and said he had a broken nose. The story was that he was in Las Vegas for a bachelor party and involved in a car accident, broke his nose and was arrested for a DUI. (My son does have a friend who’s getting married in Las Vegas.) My mom was told to call a lawyer in Las Vegas and to go to Best Buy and get three gifts cards at $2,000 and call him back with the numbers on the back. The lawyer’s office was a legitimate name; the bogus phone number had a Las Vegas area code linked to a Canadian phone number. Fortunately the manager of her retirement residence overheard the call and warned her. Could you please write a piece on scams so others might benefit? – S.B.

A: Fortunately your mother did not fall victim to the scammers. Yet millions of older adults do. One in every five Americans age 65 or older has been abused financially with losses of almost $3 billion according to a MetLife study. The U.S. Senate Committee on Aging recently identified top 10 scams targeting older adults. The information is primarily based on their report.

The grandparents’ scam No. 6 on the list. A fraudster pretends to be the victim’s grandchild, needs money to get out of jail, pay a hospital bill or leave a foreign country. The con artist also may pretend to be an arresting police officer, lawyer or doctor. Scammers may have personal information such as a phone number, address or name of a friend which they buy or steal from social media such as Face Book or Twitter. In 2014, more than $42 million was lost from scams involving impersonation of family members and friends.

Some prevention tips:

• Before sending money, check the legitimacy of the call. • Ask questions that would be hard for an impostor to answer correctly such as the name of the person’s pet or the date of their mother’s birthday.

IRS impersonation scam No. 1 on the list, this scam is considered the largest and most pervasive scam in the history of the IRS. At least $26 million has been lost with about 900,000 Americans targeted. Potential victims are threatened with retaliation with home foreclosure, arrest, and in some cases deportation if immediate payment is not made.

Here are some prevention tips from the IRS:

• The IRS does not call a taxpayer to demand immediate payment and will not call about taxes owed without first mailing a bill to the taxpayer. • The agency always gives the individual an opportunity to question or appeal the amount claimed to be owed. • The IRS never asks for a credit or debit card number over the phone. • The agency never threatens to have a taxpayer arrested.

Sweepstakes scam The second-biggest scam, here older victims believe they have won a lottery and need to take action to obtain their winnings. Scammers generally contact victims by phone or through the mail to tell them that they have won or have been entered to win a prize. Scammers then require the victims to pay a fee to either collect their supposed winnings or improve their odds of winning the prize.

Here are some tips:

• Never give out your credit card or bank account numbers unless you are absolutely and unequivocally sure who you are dealing with and what you’ll be getting. • Resist tactics that are high-pressured and discuss offers with friends, family members or advisors whom you trust. • If it’s too good to be true – it’s too good to be true.

Computer scams In at No. 4, Microsoft reports 3.3 million Americans are victims of technical support scams annually, with losses of about $1.5 billion per year. Americans age 60 and older accounted for 16 percent of these complaints.

Scammers typically offer to clean victims’ computers and/or sell them a technical-support service. They direct potential victims to their monitors to view a display with an error message as a way to convince them their computers are malfunctioning. Scammers generally charge between $150 and $800 to install a free trial of programs giving the illusion they are repairing their computers.

Tips for prevention:

• Do not give control of your computer to a third random party. • Do not depend on caller ID to authenticate the caller. The caller ID numbers are deceiving; they may appear coming from a legitimate company or a local number when the party may be in another country. • Never give credit card or financial information to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support. • Keep your anti-virus software updated.

Thank you S.B. for your important question. Next week we’ll identify additional scams and tips related to grants, romance and home improvement and contacts in case of suspected scams.

Send emails to Helen Dennis at, or go to

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