New scam targets area seniors
WORTHINGTON — If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That’s the most basic piece of advice that Dave Hoffman, Worthington Police Department detective, can give about how not to fall prey to a scam.
“Any time people call you saying you won money, it’s too good to be true,” Hoffman said. “You didn’t win.”
This week, some area senior citizens have reported a new version of a phishing scam — attempts to acquire personal financial information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.
“I have gotten calls from seniors in the Reading area who have received this scamming call this week,” reported Joanne Bartosh, volunteer coordinator with RSVP of Southwest Minnesota. “I was having volunteers calling me about it: ‘Have you heard about this?’”
This particular scam is a twist on a medical alert scam that surfaced earlier this year, according to the Better Business Bureau. In that scam, seniors received computer-generated calls from a supposed medical alert monitoring company, informing the recipient that a system had been purchased for them by an unknown party and requesting banking and other personal information.
This time around, the calls are offering seniors grocery certificates:
For those 60 years old or older. You now qualify under the new National Senior Assistance Program to receive $3,000 in free groceries savings certificates. They can be used at over a hundred major grocery chains across the U.S. In addition to your $3,000 in savings certificates, you’ll receive a free emergency medical alert bracelet or necklace. This medical alert device is designed to save your life if you ever experience a fall or any other emergencies.
The recorded message then requests that the recipient press 1 or 5 to accept or deny the free offer, in the very same fashion as the original phishing scam. The BBB has not identified what personal information this updated version of the scam then requests, but as the National Senior Assistance Program is not a real organization, people are advised to hang up the phone.
In cases such as this, Bartosh refers seniors to the Senior LinkAge Line, the Minnesota Board on Aging’s free statewide information and assistance service, which offers information, assistance and connection to services to help seniors make good decisions. LinkAge Line staff followed up on this complaint and provided the BBB information.
As the primary local investigator of such scams, especially when local residents fall prey to them, Hoffman is also a source of information for people questioning the validity of too-good-to-be-true offers.
“I would just as soon have somebody call out here before they go sending something off,” Hoffman said. “This occurs over the Internet, over the phone, through letters in the mail. I have a whole file full of letters people drop off that they’ve received in the mail.”
One of the most frequent scams Hoffman hears about involves winning money in a lottery. Another common ploy is what Hoffman refers to as the “grandparents scam,” in which the caller claims to be a grandchild or other family member in trouble and in need of money.
“The problem is that people don’t second-guess it when they think somebody’s in trouble,” he said. “The first thought is, ‘This is somebody that I need to help.”‘
Improved technology helps scammers to appear legitimate, Hoffman advised, which means that people really need to be on their toes whenever they get a phone call or online solicitation.
“Computers are making it easier for them and making it harder for us to track where these people are at,” Hoffman explained. “As far as tracking the phone numbers, now they have ‘spoof cards.’ It’s a card or a website that you can go to and subscribe to, and it can make it look like you’re calling from someplace else. They can make it look like you’re being called from the Worthington Police Department.”
In one local case, investigators were able to track one of the transactions to Jamaica, and the postal inspector there actually talked to the individual who was engaging in the scam.
“But of course, we’re dealing with another country, and that’s where we’re having the issues,” Hoffman said. “Once they send the money, it’s gone, and the likelihood of getting it back is about zero.”
When people do get taken in by a scam, they are sometimes reluctant to report it to the authorities because they are embarrassed. But Hoffman stresses that it’s important to report scams so another person doesn’t suffer the same fate.
“It’s not just seniors,” he said. “It’s everybody. I’ve had people in their 30s get taken. Everybody needs to be aware this is going on. If somebody can make 1,000 bucks for 10 minutes of work, they’re going to keep doing it because it’s easy money for them.”