Part 1 of a 2-part series.
Unfortunately, there are scam artists across the country and around the world trying to defraud Nebraskans every day. Nationwide, scams against seniors are generating billions of dollars each year for criminals. Together, we must fight back.
That was the message of a special presentation Tuesday morning at the Prairie Pioneer Center in Broken Bow. The office of Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, and the Safe Communities for Custer County Committee, presented the senior anti-fraud education program. This information is designed to help seniors, as well as others, recognize scams and provide tips on what to do if you or someone you know is a target of fraud.
As we enter into the season of giving, many Americans find themselves the target of ruthless scammers. As the generation who showed us how to make honor and trust a part of our everyday lives, seniors are now seeing those very principles used against them, Bruning says. He says that is why his office created the Nebraska Senior Anti-Fraud Education Program (S.A.F.E.).
“Education is the best weapon we have to fight consumer fraud,” says Josie Rodriguez of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, who presented Tuesday’s program.
The S.A.F.E. program provides information on a wide range of scam and fraud schemes, both nationally and internationally, including foreign lottery scams, telemarketing fraud and sweepstakes fraud. Rodriguez says there are several warning signs with any of these scams to be aware of. Those include:
* You are notified you have won a contest you didn’t enter.
* You are asked to pay shipping and handling fees in order to get a FREE prize.
* You are asked to give confidential information, such as a bank account number, Social Security number, date of birth or credit card number.
* You are pressured to make an immediate decision or keep your “winnings” a secret from family and friends.
* The call is before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
If you suspect a scam, Rodriguez says the most important thing is to NEVER give out confidential information over the phone. While we have all heard this and believe we know better, she emphasizes that these scammers can be very tricky.
“These scam artists play on our emotions of fear and excitement,” Rodriguez explains. “The prospect of winning evokes excitement, while the threat to hurry and claim your prize or lost it evokes fear.”
If you receive a phone call that you believe to be a scam, just hang up! Rodriguez says the longer a scam artist is allowed to talk, the more likely you may be to buy.
“These scammers will try any avenue they can find to try and establish a relationship with you,” Rodriguez says. “They will ask you questions and get you talking until they find a subject that they can sense the excitement in your voice.”
She says the scammer may even call back two or three times just to ask how things are going, or how you are feeling - whatever they can find to make you think they are a nice person and you can trust them. But you can’t.
“These scam artists are thinking of new things all the time,” says Rodriguez. “It’s hard to stay ahead of the game. This time of year charity fraud is on the increase, and seniors especially can easily find themselves victimized when they were just intending to help someone in need. There are many charities that have very legitimate-sounding names, or names very close to that of a well known charity, that are nothing more than an organization of scam artists. They call with promises to help the needy, the poor, the hungry or others with your donation, but simply pocket the money instead.
Rodriguez listed 10 “charity” organizations with a reference to a veteran’s organization, but of the 10 only three met Better Business Bureau standards. Even if the charity’s name sounds legitimate, but you still don’t recognize it, ask some questions. Ask them to send you a brochure or if there is a website you can visit for more information.
Rodriguez notes a couple of resources available to everyone to help determine if a charity is legitimate. One of those is the website www.give.org , while the Better Business Bureau also offers a publication called the Wise Giving Guide.
The Attorney General’s office encourages seniors to plan a yearly budget for charities and not to go over that, even if you get a high-pressure call. If not a charity whose name you recognize, ask for a number you can call after you have confirmed it is legitimate and check the number against your local telephone directory.
Donna Lawson, local director of Central Nebraska Community Services, says her office has been seeing a lot of seniors receiving fraudulent calls from someone posing as a representative of Medicare.
“These scammers use the two things they know are most important to seniors - Social Security and Medicare,” Rodriguez adds.
Both women emphasized the fact that these scams do not just happen in the cities - small town folks like us are being victimized too, every day. One recent technique is what Rodriguez referred to as the “grandparent scam.” A caller telephones a senior posing as that person’s grandchild, and tells them something like their car has broke down or they are stranded somewhere and need money wired to them. The conversation may go something like this:
Caller - “Hi grandma.”
Victim - “Suzy?”
Caller - “Yeah grandma, it’s me - Suzy. I’m in trouble grandma. I took off and went to Minnesota to see some friends and my car broke down and I can’t get back home. Can you please wire me some money to fix my car? But please don’t tell mom and dad because I wasn’t supposed to go and I will get in trouble.”
It is a sad scenario that unfortunately many seniors fall victim to, including a person from here in Broken Bow. Rodriguez says to ask questions of the caller, such as “where are you living now?”, or questions about their family.
Remember, scam artists will say anything to get you to give them the information they are looking for. Everyone, regardless of age, sex, education level, financial situation or where they live, is a potential victim - including seniors. In fact, says Rodriguez, seniors may be targeted more because they are perceived by scam artists to have more free time and tend to be alone more.
“If you suspect a scam - hang up! It is the best way to protect yourself,” says Rodriguez.
“The bottom line is this: trust your instincts. If something seems too good to be true - it probably is.”
For more information on the S.A.F.E. program or tips on how you can protect yourself from fraud, visit the Attorney General’s website at www.ago.ne.gov . if you think you are the victim of a scam, don’t hesitate to call the senior hotline at (888)287-0778.