Any age group can be scammed, but elderly people are a goldmine in many ways for fraudulent scamming. Scams come in many forms: by phone, by Internet or face-to-face.

Con artists use trickery to cheat or defraud others to make a quick buck. They often try to scam the elderly because many seniors live alone and like to talk to friendly sounding persons.

Five common scams involve fake lottery awards, fake grandchild calls, “pigeon drops,” charity scams and home repair scams.

A lottery award scam was used on a young man I knew in Saco. He received a call that he had won a lottery for $25,000. He was then sent a check for $1,000, but told that to cash it, the sender needed his bank account and Social Security numbers. The scammers then used that information to clean out the man’s bank account. The $25,000 prize never showed up, of course.

Just last week, a woman I know in Florida reported a scam to the police. She had gotten a phone call two days before from her grandson, who lived in another part of the country. “Hi Grandma,” he said to her. “I’m in trouble and need your help.” Because the voice on the phone was scratchy, the caller said the connection was bad.

He asked his grandmother not to tell his parents. He then said that she could send him money quickly by buying MoneyGram tickets from any local store that carries those tickets. There is a number on each ticket, and he instructed his grandma to buy four tickets for $500 each, and tell him the numbers on the back of each ticket, when he called back that afternoon. Grandma did it.

The next day, she was shocked to find out that her grandson had not called her. He was home with a cold. She filed a police report, but meanwhile, the scammer got the $2,000.

An elderly friend of my wife got caught by the magazine award letter. That is the one that says “you are a winner,” but has a loophole some seniors miss. The new movie “Nevada” is about a man who mistakenly thinks he is a winner. In our friend’s case, she kept ordering more subscriptions, thinking that she was getting closer to winning.

My cousin’s girlfriend, Maria, got caught by the “pigeon drop.” This is a scam where someone finds a wallet on the street, and offers to share the money inside with you. A third person often shows up and suggests that the two people each put up some good faith money. Maria went to her bank to withdraw the cash, but lucky for her, the bank refused to give her all the cash she wanted. The scammers gave her the wallet that supposedly had her money and the other money in it, for her to hold, while the finder went to his bank. Of course, there was no cash at all in the wallet. Maria lost several thousand dollars on the scam.

Two people tried the same trick on my 95-year-old mother, a few years before she died. They were unsuccessful, because when they talked to her about dividing what was in the wallet, she insisted on them all going to the police station to report what they found. She was an honest woman.

There are many other kinds of scams. Fake charities call for donations, especially after natural disasters. Unscrupulous home repair people tell you they will fix your roof, then take your deposit and disappear. Others may start the job, but claim you owe them more than the amount originally quoted.

Here are some rules for protecting yourself from scammers: First, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. Second, legitimate companies do not ask you for confidential information on the phone. Third, if a relative calls or wires you, call their home number, and confirm what is going on. Fourth, if people want to do repair work for you, check them out with the Better Business Bureau, and make sure you have a written contract. Fifth, think before you act. Scammers count on making you act quickly. Don’t give in to pressure. Finally, talk to a trusted friend or relative before making a decision, and if you do get scammed, tell the police.

Scammers are looking to take unfair advantage of you. Don’t let them do it.

— Bernard Featherman is a business columnist for the Journal Tribune and former president of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce.



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