Keeping up with today's scams

Skepticism pays off for Anchorage woman

Seniors are often the target of fraud aimed at obtaining money or personal information from them which will make it possible to obtain money using the identifying information.

About one-third of the victims of identity theft are over the age of 50, according Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager of the Better Business Bureau. Tabler says the individuals in this age range are a popular target because many will be too embarrassed to talk about money which they have lost to a trick.

In addition, she notes that some people may be easier to take advantage of if they are less likely to remember details and more likely to become confused in their interaction with the criminal or when trying to report it later.

Local targets

A savvy Senior Voice reader alerted us to an effort to trick her through a series of five telephone calls she received over a period of two months.

In the first call, a man who called himself “Matt Sherman,” said he was with the United States Treasury and was calling seniors to help them. He told our reader that nine months earlier she had won more than $800,000 from Publisher’s Clearing House.

Since the payment was overdue, she could be awarded much more and he named a particular bank which he claimed had agreed to pay any fees and taxes as well as put the cash directly into her account.

This all sounded too good to be true to her so she asked whether he wanted her bank account number, knowing that she was not going to give it to him. He assured her it was not needed ‘at this time’ and told her the Treasury Department was monitoring the situation and the bank would be calling her.

Sure enough, about two weeks later, a call came from “Jerome Adams” saying he was with the bank’s corporate office in Fairbanks. Repeating the good news about her mythical winnings, he said the Federal Bureau of Investigation was involved and she could get her funds “today” through a direct deposit to her account.

Having confirmed that the named bank had no corporate office in Alaska, our reader said she had called her own bank and offered the man the phone number. His reply was that she ‘should never call the bank’ and the Treasury Department would take care of all the business with the bank.

She received three additional phone calls, repeating the earlier promise and saying this service was being provided to seniors in order to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In the final call she was asked again for the name of her bank and her birth date. She gave a phony birth date and was told that date confirmed the information they had on record. She ended the call by saying there was someone at the door. Since then she has stopped answering calls from unidentified numbers or people she does not know.

Over this period of time, our writer had called the Anchorage Police Department, the Alaska Attorney General’s Office and the bank’s fraud division. While a number of organizations want to know about such calls and will try to help, she says that some advised her that it is very difficult to catch the people making these calls. The first line of defense is to provide no personal information and to hang up the phone.

Typical scams and attempts at fraud

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams. This most nearly represents the situation our reader reported. Because she was cautious and did not give out accurate personal information; called several agencies to ask about this offer; told the callers she had talked to her bank; and eventually quit answering the calls, she didn’t lose a dime.

Emergency scams. The phone message or email you receive says that a relative or a friend has experienced an emergency situation and needs you to send them money right away.

Identity theft scams. Personal information which you provide is used to make charges to your accounts or even open new accounts which become your debts. Victims report that it takes many hours and a great deal of work to restore your good name and to get the correct information back into your accounts.

The Better Business Bureau describes “ghosting” as a particularly sinister scheme wherein the identity of a person who has died is stolen through fraudulent calls to a family which is at its most vulnerable because of the loss.

Advance fee and pre-payment scams. Someone calls and offers to help you get out of debt if you send them a fee in advance of services. The caller may offer to make calls to credit cards or mortgage companies which you could make yourself at no charge.

Home improvement scams. A stranger tells you they’ve noticed a problem with your home that needs an immediate repair which they can fix quickly and cheaply.

Overpayment and fake check scams. If you are selling something, a scammer gives you a check, taking the product before you find out that the check is going to bounce.

Phishing scams. Call it ‘fishing’ and you get the idea. You receive an email that you’ve won a prize or that a company needs confirmation of your personal information. The email includes a link to which you are requested to reply. The fishing part is the fact that when you reply, the sender now knows your email address is correct and can either send you another request under another name or can insert a virus onto your computer.

Employment scams. The fundamental ‘come-on’ here is that you can easily make money from home. The offer quotes people who claim they earned thousands per month in a short period of time. If you are asked to pay a fee up front or to order a book that explains it all, be wary.

Sales and rental scams. This is probably the best model for ‘if it sounds too good to be true….’ Getting a great bargain for a small price, or owning something you can’t otherwise afford, sounds like a good thing, but the product often turns out to be shoddy and the seller is long gone.

Bottom line

For all of these scams or frauds, remember that you want to be the person in control of your information. If you have that nagging feeling that a particular offer seems weird, pay attention. You never need to ‘do it right now or lose out.’ Hang up the phone and in the case of emails don’t open links to internet sites from people you don’t know.

Reporting problems

You are encouraged to report these questionable practices to agencies and organizations which accept such complaints, either to seek assistance if you have lost money or to help spread the word that such scams are happening where you live. Michelle Tabler of the Better Business Bureau says that her organization and other agencies share information about the complaints they are receiving so they can identify the trends of various scams.

Near the end of May the BBB issued a public warning about the fact that Memorial Day is used to target military personnel and their families.

Some of the contacts available in instances of fraud include:

• Alaska Department of Commerce Division of Insurance, 269-7900,

• Alaska Department of Commerce Division of Banking, 269-8140, 888-925-2521,

• Alaska Department of Law, Consumer Protection, 269-5200, 888-576-2529,

• Alaska Long Term Care Ombudsman, 800-730-6393, www,

• Alaska Medicare Fraud Information Office, 269-4199, 800-478-6065

• Alaska Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance, 334-5989,

• Better Business Bureau, 644-5208,

• Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaints,

• National Do Not Call Registry,

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