Telephone scams target unsuspecting seniors
Unsuspecting senior citizens across America and others are falling prey to international telephone and online scams. An elderly area man and his wife were recent victims of the "fake grandson" scam. It is one of a known "relative in distress" scams, according to the www.crimes-of-persuasion.com website.
The caller asks, "Do you know who this is?" or says "It's your grandson" without identifying themselves by name. They claim to be in jail and that they need bail money. Reasons for their arrest may range from a traffic accident to breaking up a fight. The perpetrators play on the emotions of the relatives to pull off a successful swindle.
Callers ask that money be transferred to a phony bank account or wired to an address through Western Union or Wal-Mart. The grandson or other relative is later discovered safe at work and not at all in trouble. Some have been unwittingly bilked out of hundreds or thousands of dollars from the "fake grandson" scam, which has originated in some cases from Canada.
Traveling con artists
Police across the country believe that the perpetrators may be part of a traveling ring of con artists that hit different cities around a state or region at a time. They look through the phone book for old-fashioned sounding names, according to the website. Incidences of the scam surfaced in California in 2004.
Japan has had variations of the scam where callers claim to be someone's son or police officers or lawyers representing their son. They ask for money to be transferred into a bank account to arrange a settlement in a serious traffic accident.
A Japanese father was allegedly duped out of $450,000 in one case where his sobbing "son" was said to have run over some people. His son was threatened with jail if he didn't send the money.
The website cautioned to never blindly follow the directions of people that telephone. Always call relatives first before sending large amounts of money to anyone. To double-check the story, citizens can also get the name and phone number of the jail themselves to verify if their relative is being held.
Churches also scammed
The Crimes-of-Persuasion website also told of scam artists calling clergy and pretending to live in the area of the church. They say they are stranded somewhere out-of-state due to an accident or car problems after attending a family funeral. The callers request that money be wired to them.
Another church scam they'd uncovered was where a man claiming to be a church member said he had been mugged and left with a broken nose in Toronto. A new church secretary thought she recognized the man's voice and wired him money by Western Union. The church is out $400.
Most frequent scams
Canada Online posted a list of the most common telemarketing scams aimed at seniors that were found by the Project Colt task force, which is comprised of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, U.S. Customs, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Montreal police and the Quebec Provincial Police.
Lottery and sweepstakes scams, advanced loan fees, counterfeit checks, fraudulent charitable donations and magazine subscriptions, precious metals and gems and investment scams are the most frequent senior scams. Con artists often return to prior victims to increase the fraud.
Some of the top 10 internet and telemarketing frauds are prizes/sweepstakes, magazine sales, credit card sales, work-at-home schemes, advance fee loans, credit card loss protection and Nigerian money offers, according to www.peoples-law.org.
Nigerian money offers
Nigerian money offers usually involve letters from a government official appealing for help to move millions of dollars out of Nigeria and into your personal bank account in exchange for 20%-25% of the total.
You are told to give your bank and other personal information and wait for the transfer. You're then contacted to pay fees for taxes, bribes, lawyers and other costs before the money is transferred.
The money never comes, you lose the fees you've sent and you may also lose your savings since the scam artists now have your bank account numbers. According to the AARP Web site, American victims lose a million dollars a day to this scam.
Don't respond to e-mail, letters or faxes from Nigeria regarding offers like this and never travel abroad to meet the sender. Many who have were robbed or held for ransom. One American was killed, said the AARP site.
Canadian lottery scam
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard was warning seniors to be wary of fraudulent telemarketers saying that they have won prizes in the Canadian lottery. Calls have originated from Canadian cities and also from New York. An 83-year-old Phoenix woman apparently lost $100,000 in one case that Goddard investigated.
One version of the scam has a man claiming to be a lawyer telling victims that the Canadian courts have been ordered to pay millions to U.S. consumers who have played the Canadian lottery. You are instructed to send a processing fee before you can get your money.
Another variation has someone calling to say you've won a prize in a special Canadian lottery. You're asked to send a cashier's check to pay for Canadian customs.
Tickets for the real Canadian lottery are sold in each Canadian province. As in United States lotteries, you can't be a winner unless you buy a ticket. Canadian officials don't contact winners and you never have to send cash to get your prize, according to Goddard.
In similar scams, victims may be told that they have won a large lottery or sweepstakes prize, but to collect it they must pay a fee, taxes or customs duties. When a victim pays the fee to claim their prize, counterfeit checks are sent. Legitimate sweepstakes and lotteries do not ask for money from winners.
Scammers may also claim to be an official dispersing a court settlement. Fees, taxes or custom duties are also expected. Con artists may also offer fraudulent loans for a fee.
Telemarketers may take a variation of a name of a legitimate charitable organization or claim to be from a police or firefighter's organization as they request donations by phone. Some may also ask for victims to renew magazine subscriptions.
Telemarketing fraud is an international problem, said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police website. A good rule of thumb is "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is!" they note.
Their site cautioned against believing that everyone calling with a promotion or investment opportunity can be trusted.
Don't buy or invest in a product or service without carefully checking out the company and its offers. Request documentation in writing to verify product claims or that the company exists. Real companies will be happy to send you information.
Don't ever feel pressured to send money for a special offer or deal or for a prize that will only be available for a few hours.
Never give out information about your bank accounts, credit cards or finances to a caller.
Beware of companies that ask for payment in cash.
Don't be afraid to hang up the phone.