Don't answer that phone: Scammers target seniors


By Jim Poole

When Joe Moore took a call from a grandson in trouble last week, he knew something was wrong.
But the twist was that the 93-year-old Cobleskill man might be the one in trouble, not the ‘grandson.’
“Josh called and said he had been in an auto accident, and his lawyer told him he had to have $8,000 to get out of it,” Mr. Moore said, adding that he did have a grandson named Josh.
“He wanted me to send him the money. But then we started asking questions. When I asked him ‘What’s your mother’s name?’ he hung up.”
It was a scam, a trend that’s becoming common for thieves who prey on the elderly and others willing to give private information.

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Even in small-town Cobleskill, the scam that Mr. Moore might have fallen for isn’t unusual. Cobleskill Police get reports of about 10 to 12 scam calls per month.
“And those are just the ones we hear about,” Chief Jeffery Brown said.
Of those 10-12 scam calls, “maybe one or two become victims,” he added. “But that’s too many.”
The grandson-in-trouble scam is ‘prevalent,’ he said, but it’s hardly the only one. Chief Brown and Schoharie County Sheriff Ron Stevens outlined others:
•You’ve won a Lincoln Continental and must send $6,000 to cover the taxes.
•Your Social Security card’s been compromised, and you have to send money to clear it up.
•The IRS calls to demand payment.
•You’ve won money but have to wire money for handling fees.
•A man posing as a rep from an electric company threatens to turn off power unless you pay up.
Scams often originate out of the country and employ someone in the US––but likely not in New York––to make the call, Chief Brown said.
The caller will give a phony ID and ask the victim to wire the money to a store with that service.
The store’s security camera can’t make a definite image, and with the caller’s fake ID, he just disappears. That makes apprehending a scammer “nearly impossible,” Chief Brown said.
“The perpetrator has nothing to lose,” Sheriff Stevens added. “The risk of getting caught is very, very low.”
Callers may also ask for information off I-tunes or gift cards, using the info to get cash. As farfetched as that sounds, victims fall for such scams, Chief Brown said.
The scammers are also talented, often pulling basic information––relatives’ names, for instance–– off the internet to be more convincing.
“These people are good,” Chief Brown said. “They have a script, they practice.”
And if they claim they’re calling from a power company, for example, “they’ll say, ‘Let me put my supervisor on the line,’ and someone else will come to the phone,” Sheriff Stevens said. “They’re very convincing.”
Successful scams are rarely one-time affairs. If a victim sends money, the caller will come back again––and again.
Chief Brown cited several cases in which victims sent money at least twice before becoming suspicious.
Seniors are more vulnerable because they may be unaware of the private, convincing information that can be gleaned from the internet.
“And these are people who make a deal struck on a handshake,” Sheriff Stevens said. “They have faith in people.”
Seniors are hardly the only victims. Scammers can ‘spoof’ a local phone number, so it appears to be a familiar caller on a phone’s caller ID, Chief Brown said. Anyone, not just seniors, are likely to pick up such a call.
What to do with a strange call?
•Just hang up.
•As Mr. Moore did, ask questions. “Ask questions only the specific relative would know,” Chief Brown said.
•Be naturally suspicious. “No government agency is going to call up and ask for money,” Sheriff Stevens said. “And they’re surely not going to ask for payment with I-tunes cards.”