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Officials warn about ‘grandparents scam’ involving phone calls

Schuyler County Office for the Aging Director Tamre Waite and Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman are warning area seniors that the “grandparents scam” and other frauds may be making the rounds of the area.

At least several local residents have reported being a victim of the grandparents scam, in which the scammer calls or emails the victim posing as a relative, usually a grandchild, in distress or someone claiming to represent the grandchild (such as a lawyer or police officer), they said.

“The scammer tells the victim he or she is in trouble and needs the victim to wire them funds or send a prepaid debit card that will allegedly be used for bail money, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills or another expense,” Getman said.  “The caller adds enough details to make the story seem believable.  Sometimes, the caller begs the victim ‘please don’t tell my parents.’”

The scam resurfaces every few years in various communities throughout the country, he noted.  Scammers often mine emails, Facebook and other social media for the necessary information to pose as the grandchild, Getman explained.

Often, the scammer works with a partner, Waite said, who gets on the phone and pretends to be an authority figure, with instructions on where to send payment.

“Grandparents will do anything for grandchildren, so they’re a vulnerable target,” Waite said.  “These scammers are very good at playing on our emotions.”

Waite and Getman said the scam can avoided with a few simple steps:

  • Beware of any urgent solicitation of funds, especially if it is needed to pay for unexpected bills, such as bail money, lawyer’s fees, or doctor bills, especially if it comes late at night;
  • Beware of requests to send debit cards or wire money, as these are scam artists’ payment method of choice;
  • Verify the person’s identity by asking questions someone else couldn’t possibly answer, such as the name and species of the grandchild’s first pet;
  • Before sending funds, independently contact the grandchild or another relative at their regular phone number to verify the details of the story;
  • Check the privacy settings on your social media accounts and safeguard your email by using antivirus and anti-spyware software;

Seniors who have been victims of this scam, or who suspect a call is a scam should immediately report it to local law enforcement.

Other scams that may be targeting the area, Waite and Getman said, involve fraudulent Social Security  and Medicare calls.

“We are also receiving reports from individuals who have been the target of Social Security and Medicare scams,” Waite said.

“Apparently callers are targeting Medicare recipients telling them that their Medicare card has been suspended and must be reactivated and in order to do so, they must pay a fee,” she explained.

“They then tell the person they must provide their social security number and payment information. As another fear factor, they are telling people that their assets will be frozen until this is cleared up. People are complying out of fear they will lose their coverage.”

Getman warned seniors to be suspicious of any calls that seek personal information over the telephone.

“If you are a beneficiary of Social Security or Medicare, be aware these agencies do not call you to ask you to disclose financial information to get a new card,” he explained.  “Never give out your Medicare number or any other personal information to someone you don’t know.”

“When in doubt, hang up,” Getman said.  “Legitimate government agencies will usually follow up with a written request.”

Waite and Getman said Medicare consumers who provided information to these callers should review Medicare statements closely and call 1-800-MEDICARE or 877-272-8720 immediately if they see anything unusual or suspicious.  They may also contact their local law enforcement agencies.

The Schuyler County Office for the Aging was established as a result of the Older Americans Act of 1965 with the core function being provision of information, referrals and services for county residents age 60 and over, as well as their caregivers.

The Schuyler County Attorney is the legal advisor for county government, including the Office for the Aging, Department of Social Services Adult Protective Unit and other county agencies serving the senior population.

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