GATES — Thieves are targeting the elderly at an alarming rate with scams to rob them of their savings or their identities, and caregivers and family members need to make them aware of the problem so that they can protect themselves, according to a local expert.
“We are seeing senior citizens ripped off at an unbelievable pace,” said Jim Lynd, a retired bank executive who has spent the last five years with Lifespan educating the elderly population about this pattern of thefts. Lynd, coordinator of Lifespan’s Senior Consumer Network, spoke to employees at the diocesan Pastoral Center Feb. 18.
Although there are many different types of scams, most of them target people who are older than 55, Lynd noted, because of the perceived wealth of that population.
Common scams run the gamut from identity theft using stolen personal information to telephone solicitations, lottery claims, contractors who ask for payment before completing a job and unclaimed funds recovery, according to Lynd.
Information on the Consumer Sentinel Web site — a complaint database established by the Federal Trade Commission — states that more than 800,000 identify-theft claims were filed between January and December 2007. Those who filed complaints reported losses totaling $1.2 billion, according to www.ftc.gov/sentinel/reports/sentinel-annual-reports/sentinel-cy2007.pdf.
Lynd highlighted several recent scams in which callers posed as grandchildren who claimed they had been in accidents and needed money wired to them, or claims that senior citizens have won a Canadian lottery and they must wire a collection fee to receive their prize. He added that claims from other countries that a person has died with no heir and wants to give the person reading an e-mail or letter the inheritance are always fraudulent.
“People feel entitled,” he added. “They think their ship has come in.”
He recommended that relatives or friends make the elderly aware that these types of “great deals” exist only to steal their money or identities. Often, relating these stories also can help a senior feel more comfortable talking about a situation in which he or she has been victimized, Lynd added.
“You really have to be careful,” Lynd remarked. “You have to look out for seniors because often they are embarrassed and won’t tell you. Bring stories to them. Tell them to be aware.”
One of the most important ways to protect oneself is to guard one’s Social Security number and Medicare cards, which seniors often tend to carry with them, Lynd added. He also recounted the “courthouse con” first discovered in Monroe County in which the scam artist pretends to be calling on behalf about the victim’s “failure” to show up for jury duty. The victim replies that he or she never received a notice and the caller then asks for the person’s Social Security number to resolve the problem.
“Get your Social Security number out of your wallet or purse … (because) if they get it, they can recreate you like that,” Lynd said, snapping his fingers to indicate the speed of identity theft.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on protecting the elderly or to receive a copy of the pamphlet “If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is,” call Lifespan at 585-244-8400. For questions about a specific company, contact the Better Business Bureau at 1-800-828-5000.