Kelli Cicirelli

Seniors: Be skeptical and stay safe from scammers

By Kelli Cicirelli

Don’t answer your phone.

That was the most surprising advice provided by Sunny Mulligan of the NH attorney general’s office at a recent discussion of how elders can avoid scams.

When we hear of seniors being financially exploited, some of us picture slick insurance-salesmen types using fast talk and high pressure to flim-flam an older person. Would it surprise you to know that most exploiters are family members, friends and hired caregivers?  Whether interacting with a neighbor, a long-lost relative, or a kind voice on the phone, seniors need to be diligent about protecting themselves from schemers.

Last fall, my mom got a phone call from a young guy who said he was her grandson. He said he was in trouble and needed her help. My mom is far from naïve, but she was initially frightened and, like any grandparent, was upset at the thought of her grandson desperately calling her. Thankfully, she didn’t take the bait and eventually hung up on the scammer.

A senior reads their credit card number into a phone.

Here are some other scams that seniors need to be aware of, and how to handle them:

  • Spoofing: Your phone rings and the caller I.D. displays a number and familiar name. It could be a scammer, so don’t answer. Instead, call the person back with the number you have for them.
  • You receive an unexpected check in the mail: If you deposit it, you may be authorizing the purchase of something or applying for a loan you didn’t ask for. Free money is never free—don’t cash the check.
  • A caller repeatedly asks, “Can you hear me?” Don’t respond, and hang up immediately. If you respond “yes,” your answer may be recorded for a credit card charge or purchase of something you don’t need.
  • People claiming to be Internal Revenue Service agents phone you or even knock on your door, claiming you owe back taxes and risk being arrested. They often ask to be paid in gift cards. Don’t fall for it and call the police. The IRS or a government agency will only contact you by mail.
  • A caller demands you send money, or else your electricity will be turned off, or you’ll lose your home. Hang up, then call the service provider the first caller pretended to be.

Don't be embarrassed—report the crime

These scams happen every day to seniors. Often, seniors feel silly or embarrassed about being targeted and don’t report the scam or crime. Don’t be embarrassed! The scamming industry is BIG business, to the tune of about $40 million a year, and it’s lucrative because SO MANY seniors fall victim to pressure, deception, or just plain old over-trusting of what they hear. Financial exploitation is also a crime in New Hampshire. 

To protect yourself or a loved one from financial exploitation, here are some tips from the New Hampshire Legal Assistance Senior Law Project:

  • Keep in touch with friends and loved ones. If you are isolated, you are more of a target.
  • Never provide personal information to others.
  • Do not sign blank checks or give anyone your credit/debit card.
  • Avoid scams like prizes you have suddenly “won.” If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  • Check your financial statements frequently for irregular activity.
  • Get written estimates for work before you hire anyone. Agree on the price beforehand.

And remember the top tip: If you don’t know that number on your caller I.D. and you don’t answer your phone, you've taken a powerful step toward protecting yourself from scammers. If it’s me calling, I promise to leave a message and you can call me back.

Kelli Cicirelli is a ROC-NH™ Senior Organizational Trainer.

ROC-NH™ is a program of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, Inc. and a ROC USA® Certified Technical Assistance Provider.
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