Griswold initiates 'triad' to protect senior citizens

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Fri., Jun. 28, 2013
State Assistant Attorney General Phillip Rosario describes how criminals target senior citizens with scams. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
State Assistant Attorney General Phillip Rosario describes how criminals target senior citizens with scams. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

In an effort to help local senior citizens avoid being victimized by scam artists, town and state officials have teamed with law enforcement and businesses to create a “triad” of prevention and protection. The new program was unveiled at a June 27 public meeting at the VFW Post 10004, attended by Assistant State Attorney General Phillip Rosario, as well as nearly 100 local older residents and community leaders.

Seniors are especially vulnerable to scam artists, said state Rep. Steven Mikutel (D-45). “They figure you have more money,” he said. “These are real predators who want to take your money away.” He told of a constituent who contacted him after “winning” the so-called "Spanish Lottery," wanting to check if it was legitimate. The resident was told that he had to provide a bank account number so the “winnings” could be deposited. “It took all I could possibly do to dissuade him,” said Mikutel. “I said, ‘It’s a fraud. You’re being set up.’”

A triad community uses a three-pronged approach involving law enforcement, local businesses and seniors themselves in learning how to avoid scams, educating others about them, and reporting when they happen, explained Crime Prevention Specialist Angela DeLeon of People’s United Bank. The concept originated more than 20 years ago in Virginia and has proven successful in Bridgeport, Conn., as well as in other communities, she said.

Besides their sizeable savings, seniors are an attractive target for identity thieves and other scammers because they came of age in a society where “your handshake was your word,” and thus tend to be more trusting of strangers, Rosario said. They may also be unfamiliar with financial issues because a spouse took care of those matters. In addition, as people age, they tend to grow isolated from their support system, he said.

Griswold senior Kathy Londe said that she thought the triad was a great idea. She herself was nearly the victim of identity theft during a vacation, when a cashier secretly used a hand-held scanner to swipe her credit card number. When Londe tried to use the card herself later, it was blocked, and her credit card company explained that someone else had tried to use it but didn’t know the answers to her security questions. “It was scary,” she said. “All they have to do is aim the scanner.”

Other scams involve phone calls from someone claiming to be a grandchild, saying they are overseas or in jail and need money. The caller will often say, “don’t tell mom or dad.”

“Anything they tell you you’ve got to keep secret is a big red flag,” said Rosario.

Rosario reminded seniors, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Guard your personal information. Treat it like it’s cash.” Don’t carry your Social Security card on your person, and don’t give out personal information, like Social Security or bank account numbers, over the phone. Check your bank and credit card statements for discrepancies so they can be caught early. Never wire money to someone unless you are positive you know who it is.

As a first project, the triad is adopting a “yellow dot” program set to be implemented in September, said Falck. Local seniors will be able to receive a yellow sticker and an accompanying folder, to be kept in their car’s glove box. The folder will provide such important information as name, address, medications, and whether the senior is a care-giver for someone else or for a pet. This information, while not sensitive, will help first responders to a medical or other emergency, and the yellow dot serves to alert them that the  information is readily available in case of emergency, she said.

Resident State Trooper Jason McCarthy, Senior Center Director Tina Falck and Diane Kent of People’s United Bank took turns lighting three candles, and then signed a triad agreement, along with Rosario, Todd Babbitt of the Griswold Fire Department and First Selectman Philip Anthony.

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