By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

Older adults are the #1 target for telephone scammers. They are calling to get your dollars.

The words of warning came from Detective Henry Cunningham of the Bolingbrook Police Department during a program he was conducting on “How to Avoid Telephone Scams.” He was speaking at the Heritage Woods affordable assisted living community that Gardant manages in Bolingbrook, Illinois.

He recently handled a case in which an elderly woman was scammed out of $175,000 because a scammer convinced her that she had won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

Most likely, he said, there is no way for victims of telephone scams to get the money back.

“When you send money to people you do not know personally or give personal or financial information to unknown callers, you increase your chances of becoming a victim of telemarking fraud,” noted the Bolingbrook Police Department Community Alert Bulletin that Detective Cunningham handed out to those of us in attendance.

Cunningham provided information on what the Bolingbrook Police Department is seeing as the most common telephone scams and what you can do to avoid them. We were urged to share the information with others.


Common Phone Scams

  1. The IRS Scam

In this scam, the caller poses as an agent with the Internal Revenue Service and threatens people with arrest, prosecution and jail time if monies owed to the IRS are not paid. They often request that you use a prepaid debit card to make payment.

Given the extent to which phone calls from fake IRS agents have been plaguing consumers, the Internal Revenue Service has published a list of things you will not experience from a legitimate IRS representative. For instance, the IRS will not call you by phone if there appears to be a problem. They will send you a letter.

  1. Your Own Phone Number

If your own phone number ever pops up on your phone screen, do not answer. It may seem harmless, but this scam reportedly collects and classifies the telephone numbers of people who answer the phone as good targets for other scams and for people who want to sell you things.

It may be tempting to see who is on the other end of the line, but you may be signing yourself up for more unwanted calls.

  1. The Grandchild ScamConcerned-Man

The scam works this way. A person calls you and poses as a family member (typically a grandchild) who is in need of financial help. They are calling you because they can’t get in touch with their parents. They are in desperate need for you to wire money.

Detective Cunningham indicated that he handled two “Grandchildren Scams” last year in which the victims lost $1,500 and $1,700.

  1. The Payday Lender Scam

This scam is a variation of the sweepstakes scam or the call from “your credit card company” offering lower interest rates. In this case, the scammer calls to congratulate you because you have been approved for a payday loan. They are seeking personal information that they can then use to scam you out of money.

  1. The Tech Support Scam

Hackers are aware that people avoid opening suspicious looking e-mails because they may contain malware that will infect your computer and compromise the information that is on it. As a result, they will try to get into your computer by way of a phone call.

The caller may claim to be part of a well-known tech company and say that the company has detected malware on your computer. They need remote access to resolve the issue. By agreeing, you are letting the scammer into your computer and providing access to the information stored on it.


Tips to Avoid Telemarketing Fraud

The Consumer Alert Bulletin provided by the Bolingbrook Police Department offers the following advice on what you can do to protect yourself.

  • Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company. It is never rude to wait and think about an offer. Always take time to make a decision. Talk over big investments with a trusted family member, friend or financial adviser. Legitimate companies will not pressure you to make a snap decision.
  • Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about an offer or donation to a charitable cause before making or authorizing a payment.

    Concerned Woman

    Don’t be afraid to ask for information. Be alert to avoid telemarketing scams.

  • Do your research. Always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency,Better Business Bureau, state Attorney General’s Office, the National Fraud Information center or other watchdog groups.
  • Ask for information. Ask for the caller’s name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address and business license number and verify the accuracy of the information.
  • Before you give or send money to a charity or make an investment, find out what percentage of the money is paid in commissions and what percentage actually goes to the charity or investment. Never send cash or give out personal information such as credit card numbers, Social Security and Medicare numbers, expiration dates, birth dates, bank account numbers to unfamiliar or unknown persons.
  • Do not pay in advance for services. Pay only after the services have been delivered.
  • Don’t pay for a free prize. If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
  • Never respond to an offer you don’t thoroughly understand.
  • Before you send money, ask yourself a simple question. “What guarantee do I really have that this solicitor will use the money in the manner we agree upon?”

If you hear any of these – or similar – warning signs from a caller, just say “no thank you” and hang up:

  • You must act now of the offer won’t be good.
  • You have won a free gift, vacation or prize but you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
  • You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by a courier.
  • You do not need to check this company out with anyone. You do not need to speak to a family member, lawyer, accountant, Better Business Bureau or consumer protection agency.
  • You do not need any written information about their company or need their references.
  • You can’t afford to miss this high-profit, no-risk offer.

If you receive a suspicious call, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Cunningham also recommended calling your local police department.

In addition, you should also regularly review your credit scores and your Medicare quarterly statements. Report any signs of abuse.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is too good to be true.

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