'Advanced fee' and other scams target seniors

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Jun. 2, 2011
Agent James Kennedy of the Glastonbury Police Department explains some of the money scams currently targeting seniors, at the Glastonbury Senior Center on May 31. Photo by Steve Smith.
Agent James Kennedy of the Glastonbury Police Department explains some of the money scams currently targeting seniors, at the Glastonbury Senior Center on May 31. Photo by Steve Smith.

There are reasons why senior citizens are a prime target of many money scams, such as “advance scams” – in which a large sum of money is promised, in exchange for a deposit, according to Agent James Kennedy of the Glastonbury Police Department, who spoke about those and other types of cons, swindles and frauds at the Glastonbury Senior Center on May 31.

“Older Americans are more likely to have a nest egg,” Kennedy said. “That’s something these scammers keep in mind. Another thing is that older Americans tend to have excellent credit, and are in a position to buy something.”

Kennedy added that people who were raised in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s were brought up to be polite, which makes them more likely to stay on the phone with a scammer than simply hang up.

“Older Americans are also less likely to report a fraud,” Kennedy said, because of fear of embarrassment, or because they may not realize they have been scammed until it is too late.

Some of the more common scams being tried currently are advanced-fee scams, also known as “419 scams” or “Nigerian scams.” (The number 419 refers to the part of the Nigerian penal code dealing with fraud.)

Typically, a person would receive an e-mail, letter or phone call in which they are promised a cut of a large sum of money later on if they help with a deposit to cover fees or other costs up front.

Eager to help and profit, the victim will send hundreds or thousands of dollars, usually via money transfer, and never see one cent in return.

Kennedy said if it looks too good to be true, it probably is, but there are other warning signs.

“‘Dear sir or madam,’” Kennedy said. “That’s about how all of them start. It’s a really typical Nigerian greeting.”

Other watch words are “hundreds of thousands of United States dollars available” or “guaranteed money.”

“Nothing is guaranteed,” Kennedy said. “Don’t pay attention to things that guarantee anything.”

Kennedy said if someone receives a Nigerian scam letter, they should not respond in any manner, but send the letter to the U.S. Secret Service, or local FBI or postal inspection office.

There are other sorts of advanced fee scams people need to watch out for, that may not resemble the Nigerian scam initially.

Kennedy said he knew someone who had sold a car on eBay, and instead of dealing with a safer middle-man payment company like PayPal, dealt directly with the buyer. The buyer claimed to have mistakenly sent more than the purchase price, and asked the seller to refund the difference. By the time the balance was sent back, the purchaser’s check turned out to be no good.

“He had given this guy $3,000 and the check that he had wasn’t even good,” Kennedy said. “In his trying to sell the car, he lost $3,000.”

Another recent fraud involves the jury selection system in order to steal personal information.

“People call you and tell you that you were scheduled for jury duty and didn’t show up,” Kennedy said. “[Then they say] ‘we need to verify who you are - can you give me your date of birth and social security number?’ Then they’re off to the races. They’re going to get a credit card in your name and rack up as much as they can on it.”

Kennedy added that the caller will also threaten the person with fines or punishment, and since most older people were raised to be honest and nice, they will give their information.

Kennedy said that for actual jury service, people will receive notification in the mail, and a number to call.

“No one’s going to call you and ask for your social security number,” he said, adding that one should ask for official notification from the state via mail.

A “new” fraud being used in recent cases, Kennedy said, is the use of an electronic device at ATMs, which record the account number and PIN of the cardholder. Kennedy said a group of eastern European men have been targeting machines in the area, in towns including Manchester, Windsor, Vernon and East Hartford.

“When you go to an ATM machine,” Kennedy said, “be observant. Look at where you’re putting your card. Does it look like it’s part of the machine, or does it look like an attachment on the outside of the machine?”

There are also many phone scams currently being used, such as a person claiming that you won a prize, or representing a relative in jail. Others claim to be from a well-known, but reputable company that people commonly already deal with, and requiring more information.

“There’s always someone out there trying to find a new way to get money from you,” Kennedy said. “We always have to keep in mind what information we’re sharing with people.”

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