Over the last few years, the Mercer Island Police Department has responded to frequent reports of residents receiving scam telephone calls in which they are asked to wire money, usually through Western Union, to distant locations in other countries. The senior community of Mercer Island has become a favorite target of these telephone scam artists.
These scam artists prey on people who may suffer from a diminished mental capacity or ailing health issues, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.
The reason this is a popular scam is because once you electronically wire money somewhere, it is essentially unrecoverable. Typically, the money is wired to a foreign country so any type of investigation is impossible.
Here are a few tips on how to protect yourselves from becoming a victim to these scam artists:
The Lottery Scam
This scam involves someone that will call you and inform you that you have won some sort of fabulous prize. This prize could be large amounts of cash, a car, or even a house. They will tell you that all you need to do to secure your fabulous new wealth is to electronically wire some money to a “lawyer,” a “lottery official,” or some other figurehead.
The common amounts these people ask for range from $1000-$5000. This is a simple scam to recognize because if you think about it, you probably would remember buying a ticket for the Canadian Lottery or whatever lottery this person is saying you supposedly won.
Finally, some of these lottery scams will ask you to pay, and wire money, upfront on the taxes for the “lottery winnings.” Don’t be fooled. There are no lottery winnings.
My “Grandson” (or Family Member) Needs Help Scam
The caller (scam artist) is pretending to be a grandson, relative, or close friend of yours. They will typically use the old psychic trick to fish information out of you to make their identity seem real. For example, “It’s me, your grandson,” to which you would reply, “Tom?” Now they know your grandson’s name and you may not realize it was you who told them. Remember also, there is a world of personal information available on the internet these days so when they call, they may already have all the information they need to seem legitimate.
Next, they will make a desperate plea for help and ask for money to be wired. They will claim they have been in a vehicle collision and are in the hospital or that they have been arrested.
In any case, they will need money to be wired to their location whether it is for bail, medical bills, etc. This one is highly targeted at seniors because they are usually quick to help family and friends in need, and very possibly do not speak to extended family often enough to know them by voice.
This scam can be fought simply by doing some follow-up calling before you send any money. Be aware the scam artist caller will usually ask you to promise not call their parents.
Call another family member who knows where this “grandson” would be and confirm their location. Even better, call the person you supposedly just spoke to. If they are at home, then they are not in a Dominican jail cell.
In conclusion, almost anyone that calls you and wants you to wire money to them is trying to steal from you. These two are the ones we seem to deal with the most, but there are limitless variations on the theme. Some scams call pretending to be your bank and will ask you for your information. Some scam calls will be a computer company claiming your computer’s anti-virus has been compromised. Remember, your bank will never call you and ask you for your personal information over the phone.
The senior community is a favored target because they often have money, but also because the scam artists are hoping to find someone with some degree of dementia.
If you have a family member living on their own who has dementia or even just gets confused more often than they used to, pay close attention to them. Try to arrange for them to call you before making any large financial decisions. If you feel they are vulnerable, consult an attorney to discuss possible power of attorney arrangements to protect them and make sure they can continue their retirement in peace, they have earned it.
For more information, visit the AARP's website at http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/
(Ed. Note: The information in this article was provided by MIPD Officer Rob Jira.)