You know the holidays are close when scammers start with their phone campaigns, and senior citizens are their prey. This is commonly referred to as the Grandparent Scam.
This past week a resident of Fort Stockton came to the newspaper to relate something which had happened which is, unfortunately, all too common nowadays, especially with the advent of newer and more advanced technology.
The resident, who wishes to remain anonymous but for the purpose of this story will be called Mary, received a phone while on the way out the door to church. The caller claimed to be Mary's nephew, from California, but said he was stranded in Mexico, having been in a slight fender bender, and the driver of the other car was insisting that he needed cash for his insurance deductible before Mary's nephew would be allowed to go on his way.
Because Mary was in a hurry to get to church, and as a good aunt was worried about the welfare of her nephew, she overlooked a number of things, in retrospect, that were clearly red flags, and would have caused her to question the caller's identity.
First of all, the caller told Mary he would need to call her back, after she agreed to send money via Western Union, so she gave him her cell phone number.
The fact that Mary's nephew is from California, and generally speaks only English to her was another flag that should have been raised. The caller spoke only Spanish during Mary's phone conversations with him.
Mary never asked the caller any questions that only her real nephew would have been able to answer, which would have verified his identity. She never imagined that she would be the object of a scam, and so just assumed that the young man on the other end of the phone was, in fact, her nephew. Looking back, she said that if he had identified himself as one of her grandchildren, she would have known it wasn't her nephew.
Another red flag is that the scammer only asked for Mary to wire him $400. Generally, transactions of $500 or more are considered suspect, but $400 is considered 'flying under the radar'.
Something else that occurred to Mary, after she realized that she was the victim of a scam, was that on her phone's Caller ID screen, there was no number, just the words Private Caller. Had her nephew been calling her, his name and number would have shown up.
Many scammers are now using social media websites, like Facebook, to get information about the people they prey on, such as phone numbers, street addresses, names of relatives or friends and their locations, where they work and went to school, in order to sound more authentic when placing the call.
Grandparents often use social media websites to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren, post personal information and photos. Before doing that, make sure security settings are such that only family and acquaintances that have been 'friended' can see postings. Otherwise, anyone who does a search and clicks on an individual's name can see everything that has been posted, including personal information.
The secret to using social media websites is to make it as difficult as possible for strangers without good intentions to access the website.
Called ID Spoofing
In other instances, scammers have been known to use something called 'Caller ID Spoofing', which is not against the law in the United States.
The service which provides the means for the ‘spoofing’, is only available through online businesses, and was created to allow people living in safe houses, such as battered women, to make contact with the outside world by phone, but prevent abusers from locating them, to make calls while protecting them.
However, as is the case with a lot of services, whose origins have good intentions, someone took the idea, turned it into a business, making it available to anyone for a fee.
Caller ID Spoofing occurs when an individual registers at the website of one of the many online companies offering the service. Generally, the fee is very reasonable, and just requires the use of a credit or debit card.
Once the registration process is complete, the individual is assigned an 800 number to call. The person places a call, and upon connection is given an opportunity to enter the phone number of the party they are calling, and then to enter the name and phone number they wish to have appear on the destination Caller ID screen.
Depending on the extent of services purchased, the caller also has the option of changing the sound of their voice. If it is a woman that is calling, she can sound like a man, and vice versa. And according to the Federal Communications Commission, this is completely legal.
And again, senior citizens are generally the object of these types of phone calls. The scammers are counting on older citizens to be more easily concerned and upset that a relative or friend might be in need of their assistance, that the hearing of the recipient of the call is not all that good, and so might not notice the voice of the caller doesn't really sound familiar.
Fradulent Fundraising Calls
This is also the season when people will begin receiving calls from groups claiming to represent the Fraternal Order of Police, or firemen, and many other benevolent organizations, that really do good deeds and make a difference in their communities. The problem is, most of the calls will be from people posing as representatives, and any money they collect in donations over the phone will never be seen by the police or firemen.
The best way to handle these types of calls is to say, "Can you call me back in five minutes? I just want to call the local police/fire department (or any other group the caller may be claiming to represent) to verify that they are conducting a fundraiser."
Or, just tell the caller to mail some information/literature about the group's fundraiser. Chances are the caller will not be calling back.
Home Insurance Scams
There are also scams that are perpetrated through the mail. One popular scam is sending a person a notice that they can purchase additional 'insurance' for their home in the event that a water pipe bursts, a furnace stops working, or any number of other things that can go wrong with a home, and are expensive to repair.
The document that comes in the mail is very simply written, and only requires a payment of less than $100 a year, generally. However, when a homeowner calls because a problem or repair has arisen that needs to be taken care, nine times out of ten a repairman never shows up, and if he does, the work is never done. There are excuses about why the 'insurance' doesn't cover whatever the problem might be.
In this case, anyone who has received such an offer through the mail should contact the company that carries their homeowner's insurance to see if the offer is valid. There is also the Internet, where research can be done, and the Better Business Bureau can verify whether the company offering the 'insurance' is listed, has a good rating, and how many complaints have been filed and resolved.
'Tis the season for scammers, and everyone, not just senior citizens, need to be wary of people who call you asking for money, or offering services that might seem to good to be true. Although, all of the scams listed have started out targeting grandparents and senior citizens.
Make sure to ask a lot of questions, and be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person on the phone is really who they claim to be. Don't be afraid to make sure that the money being requested is really going to be used for the purpose intended.