Just about every week, Gainesville police hear about another flimflam targeting seniors.
Whether it’s the bogus check bait-and-switch, identity theft via e-mail, posing as insurance adjusters for roofing work that never happens or a multitude of other schemes, elderly folks are “without a doubt,” a prime target for scammers, Gainesville Police Sgt. Shawn Welsh said.
“It’s year-round,” Welsh said. “These guys, as the economy gets worse, are just coming up with more elaborate schemes.”
According to the American Association of Retired Persons, senior citizens are about 15 percent of the population but they are the target in nearly a third of all financial scams.
“It’s amazing the things you hear,” said Lisa Ray, a financial education specialist for Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Greater Atlanta.
Ray has been visiting Hall County in recent weeks to teach Fighting Back Against Senior Scams, free classes put on by Consumer Credit Counseling Services and the United Way of Hall County.
Ray said she gets the most questions about phone calls in which people ask for personal information like Social Security numbers.
Often they pose as a person offering some financial windfall in exchange for a bank account number.
Welsh said once a scam artist gets his hands on the right information, he can “drain a bank account.”
Ray also said he is hearing more about counterfeit checks. Unsuspecting victims get them in the mail from a scammer, then follow the instructions to cash them at their bank and send a portion of the money back to the sender. It’s only later they learn the check was no good and they’re on the hook for the amount cashed.
In door-to-door schemes, people may say a house needs urgent repair, and as soon as they get money, never finish the job.
“The biggest thing I would suggest to the elderly, especially with the solicitations at their doors, is don’t let them in,” Welsh said. “Tell them you’re not interested and shoo them away.”
Welsh acknowledges that many victims are too embarrassed to admit at first they’ve been had.
Suzanne Boas, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Greater Atlanta, said many seniors have qualities that make them more attractive targets for scams.
“Seniors may have valuable assets, and they may be socially isolated,” Boas said. “Criminals hope they will be forgetful or easily confused.”
Seniors and relatives of seniors are encouraged to learn more about how to avoid falling victim to financial scams.