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Consumer alert for common phone scams targeting senior citizens

NEW YORK – The state’s Attorney General issued a consumer alert on common telephone scams targeting senior citizens. These common scams, identified by complaints and other evidence collected by the Attorney General’s Office, typically spike during the summer months. In a move to raise awareness about these scams and to help keep seniors safe, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is also participating in a Tele-Town Hall on elder abuse being hosted by AARP. 

“My office will use every legal tool at our disposal to protect senior citizens and hold scammers accountable,” said Schneiderman. “To prevent senior citizens from becoming victims of fraud and abuse, we must empower them with information they can use to protect themselves.”

“Identity theft and other forms of fraud rank high among the concerns of the 50+ in New York, threatening to rob them of their life savings and destroy their fragile kitchen table economies,” said Beth Finkel, State Director for AARP in New York State. “AARP established a Fraud Watch Network, which provides free of charge to Americans of all ages information to help them protect themselves and their families while also offering assistance to victims.” 

Common Telephone Scams Targeting Seniors:

  • Grandparent Scam – Typically, this scam comes in the form of an urgent phone call. The caller claims to be “your favorite grandson” or just says “it’s me”… prompting the grandparent to supply the needed name. While the emergencies vary, the scenario is usually this: The “grandson” is out of town and needs money fast -- to make bail, or to pay for automobile repairs or medical expenses. The caller begs the grandparent not to tell his parents, just wire the money immediately. Scammers know that parents and grandparents fear a call that tells them their loved one is in trouble. Each year, thousands of Americans get caught in the Grandparent Scam. Increasingly, scammers use actual relatives’ names and information gleaned from social media and other internet sites.
  • Jury Duty Scam – The caller will claim to be an officer of the court and say there’s a warrant for the arrest of the victim for failing to report for jury duty. The scammer will also claim that there is a fine for failing to show up for jury duty, and that unless the fine is paid immediately, the police will be sent to the victim’s home to make an arrest. The scammer will request that the “Jury Duty Warrant” be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram. The scam has been around for years and surfaces periodically in New York.  In one recent case, the calls were traced to a Georgia prison.
  • Lottery Scam – The caller says you’ve won a foreign lottery and requests that you, as the “winner,” send a check or to wire money to cover taxes and fees.  Legitimate contests never ask for money upfront. The caller may request your banking information in order to electronically direct deposit your winnings. This is an attempt to steal your identity and will wipe out your bank account.
  • The callers often use a name that sounds like a government agency or official-sounding authority. The name can be invented, like the “National Sweepstakes Bureau,” or “The National Consumer Protection Agency.” Sometimes they will use an actual name of a government agency, like the Federal Trade Commission. The scammers claim that the government “oversees” the integrity of foreign lotteries. This is a scam.
  • IRS Scam – The caller will claim to be an agent or police officer from the Internal Revenue Service calling about a past due tax balance that is owed. The caller will tell the victim that unless the debt is paid immediately, a team of officers will come to the victim’s home that day to arrest the victim. The scammer will also request that the “IRS Tax Warrant” be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram.  These scammers often use caller ID spoofing so that the victim’s caller ID box says “Internal Revenue Service” or displays the phone number of the Internal Revenue Service.
  • Utility Scam – The caller claims to be a representative of a local utility provider. In some cases, the scammer has the victim’s correct account number. The scammer will then advise the resident that the utility bill is past due and must be paid immediately to avoid termination of service.  The scammer will also request that the delinquent bill be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram.  Suspects committing this scam have often obtained personal information via the internet, Facebook, Instagram or other social media.