Seniors learn to outsmart scammers

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

If you have a phone, you have probably received a call from a scammer. All over the world, unscrupulous people employed at scam phone banks work day and night placing calls to potential victims, and they often target vulnerable persons like senior citizens. To gird seniors against this threat, Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center hosted a seminar where guests learned how to identify and thwart these criminals.

Financial advisor Brandon Downey of Edward Jones discussed several of the most effective current scams and ran through example scenarios with the seniors.

“The people who do these scams are just evil…they can be individuals or work in call centers and they spend their time trying to fool people and steal from them,” Downey said.

He explained that most calls begin with an attention grabber, like a plea for help from a grandchild in trouble, or a claim that you owe back taxes or legal fines. Once you’re alarmed and your judgment is impaired by panic, the callers ask for – or demand – money. They instruct you to go to your bank and wire funds to an account number, or go online and send a gift card to an email address.

Downey outlined popular scams like the phony IRS call, where the caller claims you failed to pay your taxes and you will be arrested unless you settle this debt immediately.

“Remember, the IRS does not collect debts over the phone,” Downey said, noting that genuine Internal Revenue Service matters are handled through more traditional and reliable channels, like registered and certified mail.

He spoke about the fake grandchild scam, where callers dupe seniors into thinking that a beloved relative is in hot water and needs a quick and discreet bailout from grandma or grandpa. Downey advised that you should never reflexively wire money to someone without carefully verifying their identity. Those few moments you spend calling around to check on your real grandchild could save you a lot of money.

Scammers also pretend to be collection agents trying to collect on debts they claim you owe, and these fake collection agency calls can be among the most intimidating and aggressive. Thwarting them can be as simple as requesting their phone number so your attorney or law enforcement officers can speak with them about these alleged debts.

Other frauds to watch out for: the long-distance relationship scam, where a vulnerable person (like a widow or widower) is plied with romantic gestures and then hit up for money; the sweepstakes scam, where the caller claims you have won a valuable prize but must first pay taxes or delivery charges to receive this imaginary bounty; and the inheritance scam, where you have allegedly inherited something from an unknown wealthy relative, but must first pay taxes, fees, or a security deposit before receiving your fabulous – and fictitious – bequest.

Phony charities are very popular phone scams, too, so it’s safer to handle your charitable donations by mail or through a charity’s official website. And when you’re online, never click on a link in an email if you’re unsure where the link leads – it could result in a scammer taking control of your computer and demanding ransom to unlock your system.

If you’re suspicious of a link, copy and paste it into, a site that will trace the origin of any web address so you can be sure it’s genuine and not a false front for thieves.

Downey also pointed out that everyone needs to check their credit report at least once a year to make sure the information is accurate and to guard against identity theft.

Even though this Carolina Pines seminar focused on protecting seniors, a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission indicated that millennials reported losing money to financial scams more than any other age group. The FTC reports that persons age 20 to 29 report average losses of just over $400, while seniors who are scammed lose an average of $1,000.

In the past year, the FTC received 2.7 million reports of attempted scams, with 1.1 million frauds committed for total losses of $905 million. The lesson here? Everyone should be on guard against phone scams, regardless of age.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of such fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357 or go to

Author: Rachel Howell

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