Sam Bauman: Scammers are looking for you and your money, stay alert
December 1, 2014
The Internet is a marvelous way to find out things and communicate around the world. It's also often a passageway for scam artists — those who are out to cheat us for money or goods — to reach us with nasty schemes.
The scammers have been at work for years and many of their tricks are well know. One that I often receive is from a man claiming to be from the Microsoft or Amazon technical department, warning me that there is a virus in my computer that will steal all the data in my memory. The voice offers to correct the problem, just go to a site where help is waiting.
Of course, the site is a trap where the scammer gains access to my computer. Almost fell for it but wised up in time.
At times, the Carson City Sheriff's Office sends out a warning of new scams detected around Carson. Officer Brian Humphrey replied to a query from me about these scams.
"The department keeps track of scams from local callers and when we they become a swarm we send out a news release. But the scams keep constantly changing in format and method. We try to keep track."
Financial scams targeting seniors are so prevalent that they're considered "the crime of the 21st century," the Internet reports, because seniors are thought to have money sitting in accounts. It's not just well-off seniors who are targets. Low-income older adults are also at risk.
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And it's not always strangers who are scammers. Over 90 percent of elder abuse is committed by an older person's family members, often their adult children.
Here's a partial list potential scams:
Health Care/Medicare/Health insurance fraud
In these scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
Counterfeit prescription drugs
Counterfeit drug scams operate on the Internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on medications.
This scam is growing in popularity — since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, up from five a year in the 1990s.
The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm.
Funeral and cemetery scams
The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors.
Scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives for fake debts.
Disreputable funeral homes capitalize on family members' unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges. Funeral directors will insist that a casket, the most expensive part of funeral services, is necessary even when performing a cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive burial casket.
It's not surprising that some older people feel the need to conceal their age.
Whether it's fake Botox like the one in Arizona that netted its distributors (convicted and jailed in 2006) $1.5 million in barely a year, or completely bogus homeopathic remedies that do absolutely nothing, there is money in the anti-aging business.
Botox scams are unsettling, as renegade labs creating versions of the real thing may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin, which is one of the most toxic substances known to science. A bad batch can have health consequences far beyond wrinkles or drooping neck muscles.
Scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average.
Older people are more familiar with shopping over the phone, and therefore might not be aware of the risk.
With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer's name is then shared with schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.
Examples of telemarketing fraud:
"The Pigeon Drop"
The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a "good faith" payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account.
"The fake accident ploy"
The con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person's child or another relative is in the hospital and needs money.
Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.
More next week.
Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal.
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