Beware: Scammers

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Contributing Writer
Dr. Mary Ann Spanos
Director of Office for Aging Services

New government data shows that scammers are making more money per episode. Close to 2.4 million people this year reported losses from fraud or scams totaling close to $9 BILLION dollars!!! Older adults are especially vulnerable to scams because scammers are skilled at preying on their fears or hopes by using a lure of dire consequences like a warrant, a grandchild in trouble, or some great windfall like winning a lot of money.

Scammers get us to believe that there is an urgency, some imminent deadline, and you need to act immediately or miss the opportunity to get the promised “inheritance.” They play on our natural impulsiveness and don’t want to give you time to think too hard. Sometimes they ask for money or a bank check to pay the “fee” that will release your millions but most often they are looking for your personal and bank information which is the key to all your financial resources. Tax season is prime time for scams. People posing as the IRS wanting to verify your social security number or bank information. Remember the government WILL NOT CALL YOU!

As you are reading this you may think that I would not be that gullible but it happens to ordinary people every day of all ages. The National Institute of Justice surveyed 2000 people in Florida and Arizona to try to determine the nature and extent of consumer fraud happening in our country. 60% of people in the study reported at least one fraud attempt in the past year and 14% reported they were victims of fraud. The most common types of fraud were phony magazine subscriptions, prize scams, donations to nonexistent charities and retrieval of personal financial information under false pretenses.

There are too many scenarios to try to highlight in this article but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has put together a website highlighting the scams that are out there. You can even sign up for SCAM alerts. The website also includes practical information on how to stay ahead of scammers with tips from the National Consumer Protection Agency. Check out this very helpful website and share the information with your family and friends for the latest scams and how to avoid them. www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts

The FTC is working hard to shut down scams that prey on vulnerable seniors but they need your help. They advise, “If you get a letter, an email, a text message or a phone call that says you’ve won a prize, here’s what you can do to steer clear of a scam. 1) Never pay to collect a prize. Whatever they say the money is for – taxes, shipping and handling charges, or processing fees – don’t believe them. Don’t send money or give them your checking account, credit card, or social security numbers. 2) Don’t let yourself be rushed. Scammers will tell you to act now or you’ll miss out. Take your time and talk to someone you trust before you do anything. 3) Tell people you know about it. By talking about scams, you might help someone you care about avoid falling for one. 4) Tell the FTC about it. Report scams at www.consumer.fct.gov or 1-877-FTC-HELP. Your report makes a difference and could help make losers out of scam artists running bogus sweepstakes.”

In addition to phone scams, we have recently had a couple of people from the Buffalo area going around to senior housing in Chautauqua County trying to “help seniors.” They are charging $97.00 to help people with their SNAP, HEAP, or Medicaid applications saying that anyone qualifies for these programs. This is not true as each of these has income guidelines. They also are giving out “FREE” cell phones and tablets for $10.01 cent co-pay. It’s not FREE if you pay any amount for it! If you give a check to these people, they not only have your money but access to your bank account information. So please check the credentials of the people you are dealing with.

Call Office for Aging and our NY Connects Helpline first (716) 753-4582. We can verify the credentials of local people who are able to help with these programs AND there is no reason to pay for application assistance. There are many local organizations including the Office for Aging Services, Southwestern Independent Living Center and FeedMore of WNY who have local staff that provide application assistance for these programs at no cost to you! By calling NYConnects, our friendly local operators will screen you for programs you qualify for and then connect you with the right person at the right agency. With your permission, we send a message to the appropriate person so you don’t have to make another call. Before we hang up, we let you know who will be calling you back to provide the assistance you require and they will provide ID from the agency they work for. We never expect scammers or fraudster to come to our door anymore but they are out there. Don’t pay for something that is promising a service they can’t deliver. Call OFAS first.

For more information on scams & how to avoid them, to report identity theft, file a consumer complaint, or get a free credit report, visit the FTC website listed at https://consumer.fct.gov or contact our NY Connects Helpline at ccnyc@chqgov.com or by calling (716) 753-4582.