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Seniors get tips and advice to avoid being scam victims
Deborah H. Bell of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office advises seniors on “How to Avoid Being Scammed” at a seminar Wednesday at the Henry County Administration Building. About 60 people attended the event sponsored by the Martinsville/Henry County TRIAD S.A.L.T. Council. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Thursday, August 21, 2014
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
“Never give out personal information.”
Deborah H. Bell — community outreach coordinator in the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Virginia Office of the Attorney General in Roanoke — said that quite a few times Wednesday during “The Street-Smart Senior: How to Avoid Being Scammed,” a seminar by the Martinsville/Henry County TRIAD S.A.L.T. Council. S.A.L.T. stands for Seniors and Law Enforcement Together.
She gave several examples of scams, some of the tricks “predators” use and what they look for in potential victims.
Predators count on victims being embarrassed, humiliated and afraid of telling family members that they have been scammed; victims being afraid that people may think they have lost their faculties (and seniors fearing they might be displaced); victims being unsure of how to report a scam and lacking details of what happened; and that victims will have “emotional strings attached,” Bell said.
“What they (predators) don’t want you to know is what they are up to,” she added.
She gave examples of some popular scams:
• email claiming to notify of a friend’s funeral or memorial service but when the recipient presses click, malicious software is downloaded;
• desperate attempt to scare a grandparent into sending money to assist a grandchild. This may involve someone calling at, say, 2 a.m. and claiming to be holding a grandchild hostage and to send ransom money. Or someone claiming to be a grandchild may call a grandparent and claim to be injured and to send, say, $10,000 immediately;
• intimidating words — for example, someone claiming to be an authority, such as a diplomat or foreign attorney, may call demanding money;
• after natural disasters, a predator may call or show up and want to fix your home, or a fraudulent charity or disaster assistance impostor may call;
• many three-digit area codes connect callers to international telephone numbers, especially 876;
• international lottery scams — it’s against federal law in the United States to play in a foreign lottery.
Bell gave these “red flags,” or warning signs, and suggestions for online dating:
• Someone seems too interested too quickly.
• If you decide to meet, do so at a safe location and bring someone you trust with you.
• Someone wants your personal information.
• Someone asks you to send him or her money, claiming to be injured or in trouble.
On identity theft, Bell said predators are looking for such things as a Social Security number, address, birthday, credit card number, name and other personal information. She admitted she was a victim of credit card theft when someone photographed her credit card with a cell phone.
She advises people who do not want telemarketers to call to register with the National Do Not Call Registry (there are exemptions).
Among the other tips Bell gave were:
• Don’t do business with someone who shows up at your door.
• Never pay to win a prize.
• Don’t send money out of desperation.
• Keep careful records.
• Beware of downloading unless you are sure of and comfortable with the source. Otherwise, malicious software or viruses could be placed on your computer.
• Consider installing caller ID if you don’t have it.
• Consider asking the phone company to block international phone calls.
• Stop junk mail.
• Stop pre-approved credit cards.
• Never wire or send money to someone you don’t know.
• Check unfamiliar area codes before returning calls.
• Receive a free copy of your credit report once a year.
Bell also advised seniors to call the Better Business Bureau and law enforcement if they have concerns.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry, Martinsville Police Chief Sean Dunn and Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper talked about the problem and/or gave tips for preventing scams.
Draper said a scammer called him claiming to be from the federal government and offering a federal grant of several thousand dollars if Draper would give some personal information, including Social Security number and address. When Draper told the caller the address is the Martinsville Sheriff’s Office, the caller hung up.
Nearly 60 people attended the event at the Henry County Administration Building.
Deborah H. Bell, community outreach coordinator in the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Virginia Office of the Attorney General in Roanoke, distributed a number of important telephone numbers for seniors to help them avoid and/or report scams:
Virginia Triad Office (703) 359-1121; Virginia Office of the Attorney General (OAG), (804) 786-2071; OAG regional offices — Fairfax (703) 277-3540, Roanoke (540) 562-3570 and Abingdon (276) 628-2759; Do Not Call Registry (to list your number), (888) 382-1222; Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs, (800) 552-9963 and (804) 786-2042 (in Richmond); Adult Protective Services Report Elder Abuse, (888) 83-ADULT; Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, (800) 371-0824; Virginia Association of Area Agencies on Aging, (804) 644-2804; SCC Bureau of Insurance senior toll-free number, (877) 310-6560; Virginia Department for the Aging, (800) 552-3402 and (804) 662-9333 (in Richmond); and Virginia Get Answers, 2-1-1.