Don't Be Afraid To Report Fraud, Officials Urge
It began with an innocent online order.
Back in late July, the 68-year-old Orleans woman made a rare purchase through Amazon.com, so the next day, when she took a call from a man identifying himself as Amazon security, she believed him.
The man asked her if she had purchased a $600 phone, as his records indicated. When she said no, he put his “supervisor” on the line to refund her money. The “supervisor” then walked her through a process that resulted in him entering her computer and gaining access to her Cape Cod Five bank accounts. He asked her to type in the amount of the refund – $600 – but as she did so, he added a “0.” He then told her she had to give back $5,400. When she balked, he accused her of stealing from him, and ordered her to go out and buy prepaid gift cards in the amount $5,400. Immediately.
Although the woman was wary, “he sounded so legitimate that every step of the way I said, ‘well yes, they have to ask this,’” she recalled. But when she saw the cursor moving in her computer she got wise to the con, hung up, and called the police on her cell phone even as the scammers continued to call her back on her home phone. While the scammers did not get any cash from her, she had to change all of her bank accounts and pay $150 to have any viruses wiped from her computer.
It is a dispiriting truth of our time that scammers are always thinking of some new way to steal our personal information and con us out of money.
“Scams and fraud are pervasive and those who perpetrate these crimes are getting more innovative and sophisticated than ever,” says Mandi Speakman, director of the Chatham Council on Aging (COA).
Emily Mitchell, director of the Harwich Council on Aging, agrees. “I am continuously surprised by how creative and relentless scammers can be. Invariably, as soon as one common scam becomes well-known, a newer and more insidious one will pop up.”
Seniors are particularly vulnerable because of “the perception by scammers that older adults may have significant savings,” Speakman adds. On top of this is “a generational attitude of wanting to help and contribute to the common good — scammers play on the need to be seen as a good person. [Seniors] may be less likely to report fraud due to fear of being perceived as having poor judgment and losing their independence.”
One ongoing scam in particular plays into a senior’s need to be a good and helpful person. That’s the scam where a caller pretends to be a grandchild who needs money immediately to get out of an unsafe situation. The scammer “may know the grandchild’s name, or may just speak with such emotion or intensity that the name or voice can’t be identified,” Mitchell says.
Cape Cod Healthcare MyChart is an online platform that allows patients communicate with their healthcare providers about medications and scheduling appointments. Obviously, during the COVID-19 pandemic MyChart has become very popular.
And the scammers know that, too. A recent scam comes in the form of a phishing email that appears to come from MyChart and even addresses the intended victim by name. If a person clicks through, they would be asked to provide a username and password – which would then be in the hands of the scammer and could result in identity theft. Worse, malware may be introduced into a computer.
Another current scam comes in the form of a telephone call supposedly from a telephone, cable or internet service provider who says an equipment update is needed and if done over the phone there is a deep senior discount. The caller will ask for credit card information or perhaps banking information. If you receive this call, you should hang up. Suspicious calls can be reported to the MA SMP Program’s Report-A-Scam phone line at 978-946-1243 or at ReportAScam@MASMP.org.
During the pandemic scammers have even set themselves up as COVID contact tracers. The Orleans COA warns that legitimate contact tracers never ask for Medicare numbers or financial information.
If people think they are the victim of a scam, they “shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it with someone they trust,” Speakman says. “They are not alone, and there are people who can help. Doing nothing could only make it worse.” She suggests contacting friends and family, the local police, the council on aging, the bank (if money has been taken) and Adult Protective Services.
The best way to stay on top of scams is to be aware of them. To that end, the Chatham Council on Aging will present a free virtual informational session via Zoom from the Better Business Bureau on Scams and Fraud Protection. The program will be held on Monday, Oct. 25 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and will cover the most common scams currently circulating in the community, major red flags to watch out for, and precautionary steps we can take to protect ourselves. To register, call the Chatham COA at 508-945-5190. The program is offered through the Cape COAST (Councils on Aging Serving Together) programming collaborative and is open to all.