Senior scammers using new strategy, Birmingham police say

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Senior scams are nothing new, but a Birmingham Police Department fraud expert says scammers are employing a new strategy to take elders’ money.

In a typical senior scam, someone calls an elder pretending to be his or her grandchild and saying they have an immediate need for money. It happened in central Alabama last month when a woman told Gadsden police that she’d sent $32,000 to a man who claimed to be her grandson. Normally, the scammer asks for money to be sent via wire transfers or gift cards. But that’s where the trend is changing.

“Now they’re asking them to put it in separate envelopes, put it in a magazine and send it through the magazine that way by mail,” Birmingham police-community relations assistant Jessica Burton said. 

It’s a new take on a common scam, and elders aren’t the only targets. Senior scams are a type of impostor scam, which according to a 2018 study by the Federal Trade Commission, is the most common category of fraud. In 2017, people filed 347,829 reports of impostor scams and lost $328 million. 

But Burton says there are ways to protect yourself.

“Double check who you’re talking to,” she said. “And call where they say that they’re calling from. Call them to double check that this person is representing that company.”

Burton says it’s always a good idea to call the company from a different number if you think you might be dealing with a phone scam. It’s also wise to consdier what the caller is asking.

“You have to just pay attention and listen for people that call you and ask you for your date of birth, for people that call you and ask you for your social security number,” she said. “Never give that information over the phone.”

Email scams also have common red flags, like misspellings – especially with the company’s name. If you see these or other grammar errors, you might be dealing with a scam.

But impostor scams are just one of 30 categories of fraud reports identified in the FTC report. Scams involving taxes are another, and Burton says they’re especially common now during tax season. Scammers also try to cash in on natural disasters – like the tornadoes that hit Lee County recently – by pretending to be a charitable organization seeking donations. Burton recommends using caution if you receive this type of call.

“Make sure that you know who you’re donating to and call and verify – not the person that called you from that number – but find another number to call and verify that that place is legitimate that you’re donating to,” she said.

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