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July 20, 2011

Scams Targetting the Elderly (USA)

Phishing on the rise, fraud specialists warn
Jul. 18, 2011
Would you give a perfect stranger your Social Security number? How about your credit card number?
Apparently residents and businesses are doing just that in phishing scams that fraud-prevention advocates say are becoming more prevalent.
“Phishing is an attempt to acquire personal information such as Social Security, Medicare and credit card numbers as well as user names and passwords by pretending to be a trustworthy and known entity such as a bank,” said Janet Caffo, Ulster County consumer affairs director.
In a July newsletter, the Ulster County Consumer Fraud Bureau reported a spike in the number of reports of phishing attempts.
Scams can come in the form of phone calls, emails and texts, Caffo said, often cleverly devised so solicitors appear as if they are calling about an existing relationship or business account.
In 2010, the Ulster County Consumer Fraud Bureau processed 43 complaints. In the first 6 1/2 months of this year, it has had 31.
Identity theft-related crimes, including phishing scams by email, were the third-most common complaint reported to the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) in 2010, said Austin Berglas, coordinating supervisory special agent of the FBI’s New York Field Office Cyber Branch.
Of more than 303,000 complaints received by the FBI’s clearinghouse in 2010, about 30,000 related to identity theft, he said.
“Con artists make cold calls to businesses and ask the person answering the phone to confirm the address and telephone number, claiming to be calling to verify the company’s listing in the yellow pages or a similar business directory,” Caffo said, referring to a recent business directory scam.
Callers then fire off a rapid series of questions, sometimes sliding in a confusing reference to the cost of a listing. They may tape-record the conversation in order to later “prove” the business authorized the service.
“It works because fraudsters convince people picking up the phone that they’re just verifying information,” Caffo said. “But what they’re trying to do is sell you questionable goods and services.”
Other types of scams come in electronic form.
“The most egregious phishing scams are the ones that come through emails,” she said. “Scammers pose as your bank and they direct you to another link through the email. They’ll say there’s a problem with your account and they need to verify your info, please click on the link below.”
Caffo said banks and other major institutions do not obtain personal information by means of email.
“Your bank will never, ever redirect to a link in an email,” she said. “They already have your information. The government will never, ever ask for your Social Security card number because they already have it.”
If scam artists do get a hold of your personal information, she said, they can then use it to establish credit and take out loans in your name.
“As our society has become more sophisticated, scamming methods have become more sophisticated,” said Edward Whitesell, chief of the Special Investigations Bureau for the Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office. “Four to five years ago, computer scams tended to come from Canada or African countries. The average person could get past them. Now, you can digitally send voice over the Internet, and phone numbers can appear local when they’re not.”
With email and other technology, scammers are able to cast wide nets when searching for potential victims, Whitesell said.
One scam that has garnered recent, local attention targets the older population.

The “Grandparent Scam,” as it is known, involves callers posing as grandchildren, in need of financial help, requesting that victims wire them money right away. The elderly can be especially vulnerable to these types of schemes, said Alice Mann, a founder and coordinator of the Coalition on Elder Abuse in Dutchess County.
“I think they’re at greater risk because they’re often isolated,” she said. “They may not be interacting with many people, they may be housebound, they may lack transportation. Sometimes, there are cognitive difficulties. There are a variety of reasons for this — medications, for example, or mental health issues like dementia.”
When the elderly are victimized in scams, Mann said, it often goes unreported. 
“There’s often concern that if they tell anyone they’ll be perceived as no longer able to handle their own finances,” Mann said.
In fact, one of the most common forms of elder abuse is financial, said Caffo, who also leads the Ulster County Coalition of Agencies on Elder Abuse.
She advised taking a firm stance when dealing with unsolicited phone calls.
“Do not be afraid to be rude,” she said.
If you have been asked to provide personal or business information over the phone, the Ulster County Consumer Fraud Bureau advises to ask callers where they are calling from and then obtain the organization’s number from directory assistance or by looking in the phone book.
The agency warns residents not to rely on contact information provided by the caller.
“It pays to be skeptical,” Caffo said.

SOURCE:     The Poughkeepsie Journal
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Any Charges Reported on this blog are Merely Accusations and the Defendants are Presumed Innocent Unless and Until Proven Guilty.

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