Dorothy Doerbecker has received many prank calls, even one saying that her sister was in the intensive care unit at a hospital. “And I got IRS calls twice,” said Doerbecker, of Massapequa. “I didn’t answer the phone, but they sent a text, too, and it said that my identification had been compromised.”
That led June Rogalo, Katherine Weymouth, Linda Modifica and Margaret Beatty to look up from their game of Rummy Q. Listening to Doerbecker, they shook their heads in disapproval. They, too, were aware of scammers who were preying on senior citizens. The women said they come often to the Life Enrichment Center of Oyster Bay, sometimes just to socialize. But on April 16 they were there for a different reason. State Assemblyman Charles Lavine was stopping by to share some information on senior scams. They were waiting for the assemblyman to begin.
Jennette James, of Oyster Bay, said she didn’t know of anyone who had been a victim of scammers, but she was worried just the same. “It’s a shame that there are so many different kinds of scams out there,” she said. “Who thinks of these things?”
When Lavine arrived, he introduced Adam Levin, a representative of State Attorney General Letitia James’s office.
Lavine said he, too, had been a victim of consumer fraud. “We have to be aware to protect ourselves,” he told the seniors.
Levin, James’s senior consumer fraud representative, told seniors that scammers are a targeting them. “They know you’ve worked hard and have a nest egg, often in your homes,” he explained, adding that many seniors don’t realize that they are in harm’s way. “Many seniors live alone. A phone call or visit is a welcome diversion.”
Most victims do live alone, are between ages 80 and 90 and are women, he said. The perpetrators are men between 30 and 59.
“Stay safe, take control and fight back,” Levin urged the seniors. “The best way is to report the crime to the police.”
Those who commit fraud and abuse have many faces, Levin said, but the scams themselves usually have the following components:
They pretend to be somone you love, like a grandson, or say they are from an organization that you trust.
They come across like a trustworthy person.
They say there is a deadline — now or never.
Some of the scams are:
Sweepstake scams. It is illegal for any sweepstakes to indicate that a purchase must be made in order for someone to win. For example, a magazine purchase isn’t required to be in a better position to win a sweepstakes.
Foreign lottery. The caller will say that a winner needs to pay the taxes on the winnings first or they will ask for bank account information saying it’s needed to directly deposit the winnings. They may also ask for personal information to wire the money.
Government agency. They may say they are from a government agency which may or may not exist.
Never give out personal information, Levin warned, including your passwords. “You don’t have to commit to anything on the phone,” he said. “Ask them to send it in writing.”
There are also scams involving contractors. Seniors will be told that a contractor has leftover product from another job, Levin said. And they will assure the potential victim that if they pay now, the contractor can work on the job immediately.
Levin advised that homeowners get recommendations on any contractor they are considering and then obtain three estimates from different contractors. The name of the contractor should be checked with the Better Business Bureau, he added.
“Then get a detailed written contract for any job,” Levin said. “If the job is $500 or over a written contract is required by law. And make sure any changes are in writing. Also, you can cancel a contract three days after you agree to it.”
Never pay by cash, he added. And homeowners have the right to negotiate a schedule of payments by credit card or check.
Levin told seniors that every purchase online should be made with a credit card, not a debit card. He encouraged them to guard their passwords by keeping them in a safe place.
One woman said that when she went to a new doctor they requested her Social Security number. She wouldn’t give it to them, saying she didn’t know the people working for the doctor.
“Just because they are asking for it doesn’t mean you have to give it to them,” Levin said. “Tell them you are uncomfortable giving the information and then ask them why they need it.”
Linda Libertini, of Oyster Bay, wondered what she should do when the caller ID on her phone indicates that a private caller is on the line. “My nieces’ number comes up that way,” she said. “Do I answer it? Sometimes you just don’t know what to do.”
It all comes down to protecting yourself, Levin said. Then he gave the seniors a booklet, “Smart Seniors,” from the state Attorney General’s Office. It details all kinds of scams and where to get help.