I previously wrote about a seminar given by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office but, due to space limitations, I was unable to finish.  The speaker for the seminar was Nelson Brewster, MA, and he gave one of the most informative seminars I have ever attended.  Today I will finish sharing what I learned. (If you did not read the previous article, it would be good to put these two together for a complete picture.)

• Sweepstakes – Scam artists know that everyone likes to be a winner.  Unfortunately, when the sweepstakes are run by a scam artist, the only winner is the scam artist.

  1. Do not give money for any reason to collect a prize or your “winnings.”  In a legitimate sweepstakes, taxes would be deducted from your winnings before the winnings are sent to you.  Do not be surprised if you send the requested money to pay for taxes or fees for your winnings that all you receive are reasons why you need to send more money to get your prize.
  2. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  This old adage is still true today.
  3. Fake sweepstakes often have names that are very similar to real sweepstakes.  This is intentional and the scam artist is hoping you will not notice the difference.
  4. Some scams send you a fake check that you are to cash and use to pay the processing fees to collect your winnings.  Your bank may not know it is a fake check until it finds it is unable to collect the money.  At that point, you can be sure your bank will charge your account for the amount of the bad check while the scam artist gets away with the money you sent.

• Checks and Money Orders – Many scams operate similar to # 4 above, but they do not involve a sweepstakes. Instead, the con artists give another reason for sending you a check that you are to cash and return all or part of the money to them.

  1. A very common feature of these scams is that they will ask you to either wire the money to them or to send them a money order.  In either case, they know it is hard to trace the money and that you cannot put a “stop payment” on it as you can with a personal check.  They get your money, and you end up with a worthless check.
  2. Another variation is that someone you do not know will ask you to deposit his/her check in your account and then give him/her the cash for it. Do not be surprised if he/she have a very compelling, maybe even gut-wrenching, story of why you need to do this for him/her.  Remember, con artists will not hesitate to lie if it means they can victimize you.
  3. In a third variation you do not receive a check, but instead you receive a call from someone pretending to be a family member in trouble who needs money to be wired to him or her.  Often this person presents themselves as a grandchild because they know most grandparents have a soft spot for their grandchildren.  The story will vary, but the request will not.  You will be asked to wire money to them at a specific place or account.  Because there is so much public information available about each of us and our families, it is not hard for a scam artist to obtain enough information to make up a believable story with all the right family names, addresses, and so forth.  Some brazen scam artists will even contact you for additional money if you send funds the first time you are contacted.

• Account Verification and Identity Theft – In our electronic world, we all need to be aware of identity theft and what we can do to prevent it.

  1. The number one reason people become the victim of identity theft is carelessness with personal information.  My wife and I shred all documents we do not need that contain personal information just to be sure the information does not get into the wrong hands.
  2. Do not give personal information over the phone to verify bank or credit card accounts.  You have already given this information to your bank or credit card company when you obtained the accounts, so why would they need it again?  The scam artist is the one who needs this information in order to steal your identity and money.  Do not give it to him or her.
  3. If you receive a call claiming to be from your bank or from one of your credit cards asking for personal information, hang up.  You can call your bank directly or call the toll free number on the back of your credit cards to find out if they truly are calling you.

As you can see from these two articles on senior crime prevention, Mr. Brewster covered a wide range of fraudulent schemes.  There is a lot that we as seniors need to be aware of if we are to avoid becoming another victim of scam artists.  If you are part of a group of senior adults and your group would like to host the Senior Crime Prevention University Program, the contact information is listed below.
Elder Abuse Unit
14th Floor, Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Telephone: 717-787-9716
senioruniversity@attorneygeneral.gov

John W. Reese
Elder Care Coordinator