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Officials: Scams target seniors

BLUE EARTH — Senior citizens met with members of the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday to discuss how to stay safe against scams.

Chief Deputy Scott Adams and Deputy Mark Purvis from the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office led the presentation, offering information about different scams that can happen and how to avoid them.

The presentation was part of the Lunch & Learn program through Interfaith Caregivers. People get to eat lunch while learning about important topics. This is done every month in Blue Earth.

Dan Woodring, director of Interfaith Caregivers, said the crowd for these events usually ranges from about 24 to 30 people, with an expected low turnout for the summer. On Thursday, about 44 seniors showed up to eat and learn how to stay safe.

“So this is a big crowd for us,” Woodring said. “I think it’s the topic.”

Woodring said the topic of senior safety was picked because it is an ongoing issue he continues to hear about from seniors, such as people getting their checking accounts cleared because of over-the-phone scams.

“It’s a big issue and I think a lot of people kind of think they are protected from it, because, ‘I’m too smart to get sucked into that,'” said Woodring. “But [the scammers] know what they’re doing to get around your reason.”

It’s a big issue indeed, as Americans lose an estimated $40 billion per year through fraudulent sales over the phone, according to the Consumer Law Center. And seniors have become the targets, with about 56 percent to 80 percent of the calls directed to the elderly, according to a study conducted by the CLC.

“This scam world that we’re talking about is truly a multi-billion dollar a year profit,” Purvis said. “I mean, it works.”

And Faribault County is not immune. According to Adams, scams are behind a large part of the calls the sheriff’s office deals with, with most of the victims being 50 years old or older.

“Scams keep us busier than anything else on a day-to-day basis,” Adams said.

In the presentation, Adams and Purvis laid out the top 10 scams that are currently facing America’s senior population:

1. Health insurance scams;

2. Counterfeit prescription drugs;

3. Funeral and cemetery scams;

4. Fraudulent anti-aging products;

5. Telemarketing and phone scams;

6. Internet fraud;

7. Investment schemes;

8. Homeowner and reverse mortgage scams;

9. Sweepstakes and lottery scams;

10. The Grandparent Scheme.

The top two that affect Faribault County, according to Adams and Purvis, are the sweepstakes and lottery scams, and the Grandparent Scheme. In the sweepstakes and lottery scams, people will receive phone calls saying they won a large amount of money. The caller will often have information about them to make it personal and believable. In order to receive the money, however, the caller requests that money be wired to the company.

“Before you know it, you’re at least $2,000 in the hole, if not more.” Adams said.

Mavis Hilpipre, who attended the presentation, said she has had first-hand experience with the sweepstakes scam. One day, Hilpipre received a call from someone claiming to be from the Publishers Clearing House, saying she had won $3 million dollars. All she had to do, according to the caller, was pay some money up front. Hilpipre wasn’t buying it.

“No, I watch TV. Publishers Clearing House doesn’t call you over the phone,” she said.

When the person over the phone told her not to tell anyone about the sweepstakes win, Hilpipre hung up and called the real Publishers Clearing House. It turned out the call was from someone in Jamaica who was not associated with the company.

Adams said scammers telling people not to tell family members about the call is common. He also said to remember that if you’re going to get paid, you will not have to pay taxes on the winnings right away or over the phone.

“If it’s too good to be true, contact your local law enforcement and family right away,” Adams said.

The Grandparent Scheme is when grandparents will receive a call from somebody pretending to be their grandchildren. The person will say that they are in trouble, such as being arrested or in a car accident, and need money to fix it. They will also tell the grandparent not to call the parents. Adams said these callers will often use a social media website, such as Facebook, to find out who the person’s family members are. For those who don’t go that route, they will give vague details in order for the grandparent to say the grandchild’s name first.

To avoid falling victim to such scams, Adams and Purvis offered tips to make sure that the scammers do not win.

One tip is to never say yes or agree to anything over the phone, as the person on the other side of the call may be recording what you say and use your voice for a variety of things.

“If they have any information about you they will use the pre-recording to use it against you,” Adams said.

Being cautious on social media also will help to avoid falling victim to scams. Those looking to scam people will often go on social media to find out personal information about them to trick them more easily. To avoid this, said Purvis, be careful about the information you post and who you decide to friend online.

“We don’t want Facebook to sue us, but really Facebook is stalker.com,” Adams joked.

When it comes to IRS scams, said Adams, remember that the IRS is not going to ask for money over the phone. When receiving a call from the IRS, work with an accountant and wait for an official letter from the IRS.

Lastly, if the person you’re speaking with over the phone is being pushy and trying to pressure you into making a quick decision, it’s usually a scam, and if it’s too good to be true, it is.

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