Seniors often targeted for scams

PARKERSBURG – The Federal Bureau of Investigation says seniors are more likely to have a nest egg, own their home, have excellent credit and generally be more trusting, all of which makes them an attractive target for scams and fraud.

Susie Casto, director with the Belpre Senior Citizens Center, and Mike Dennis, director of the Wood County Senior Center, said they tell their members if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

Charles Heldman, of Belpre, said he received a call from someone who said his grandson was in jail and asked him to send bond money.

“They said they were calling from Peru. I knew where my grandson was at, and it wasn’t Peru. They made it sound so plausible at first, though, then I realized it was a scam. I just told him I knew it was a scam and hung up on him,” Heldman said.

The call was later traced to Toronto, Canada.

Kathryn Roach, of Little Hocking, said a relative, who is in her 70s, ended up losing more than $2,000 last summer after she was repeatedly contacted by scam artists.

“They just kept calling her. We found out later they were calling from Jamaica, but she didn’t know that at the time,” Roach said. “They told her if she would send them $250 she would win $2 million. She wanted the money for her kids and grandchildren. They just kept calling, and she kept sending them money. She kept trying to get them to meet her, which of course they never did. We all told her to stop sending the money. They had her home phone and cellphone numbers. She ended up getting rid of her home phone and getting her cellphone unlisted,” Roach said. “They had her hooked, she told them not to tell anyone else in her family.”

Roach said the family reported the scam to the police, but they were told there was nothing they could do.

One senior said many times the calls or Internet scams involve threats or claims regarding Medicare, Social Security, bank or credit card accounts and there is an element of fear for the seniors.

“Statistics say part of the risk factor for seniors is their generation is more trusting. They believe that a person’s word is good because their word is important to them,” Casto said. “They also don’t question the government or official-sounding agencies like some people do, and Social Security, Medicare, their bank accounts are their lifelines, so they can’t imagine someone is lying to them.”

According to the FBI, people who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.

Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed or don’t know they have been scammed. When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses.

Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks-or more likely, months-after contact with the fraudster and this extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events, according to the FBI.

“The Ohio Attorney General’s office conducts seminars for our seniors on how to avoid fraud and scams. Part of our goal is to keep seniors informed so they can make sound decisions, whether it’s about their health, lifestyle, or financial well-being,” Casto said. “The seminars are conducted at least annually, if there is a topic that comes up, we have additional informational and educational sessions.”

Dennis said the Parkersburg center also offers information provided through the West Virginia State Attorney General’s Office on how seniors can avoid possible scams.

“We haven’t seen a lot of it, but we have talked with some of the seniors regarding possible scams, sometimes they get something in the mail, sometimes they ask them to send money,” Dennis said, noting he also gets those phone calls and solicitations from time to time.

Contrary to some popular belief, there are also a lot of seniors using computers and the latest technology.

“My father is 90 and he’s online and my 83-year-old mother just bought an iPad. There are seniors online and we advise them to be cautious,” Dennis.

One senior said she listened politely to a potential scammer, but once she became suspicious, she just kept telling him she couldn’t hear him, and asked for a phone number where she could call him back. He wouldn’t provide a number and eventually gave up.

“We always tell them not to give out personal information ever to someone they don’t know, and to check out contractors before you give them any money to do work on their home. We’re always here and happy to assist them in checking on businesses to make sure they are legitimate,” Dennis said.