These numbers are probably much higher because people are reluctant to admit they have been scammed and, therefore, do not file a report.
Scams come in different forms. Telemarketing schemes, claims of phony sweepstakes, and bogus tech support calls are a few that frequently victimize people. In 70% of these cases, the perpetrator gains access to the victim by getting them on the phone to earn their trust and convince them to disclose personal information. They often target seniors. Further, when seniors are scammed, their losses are greater than when younger people are scammed. The FTC reports the median amount lost by people 80 and older was $1,092 compared to $400 for those aged 20 to 29.
One of the most common scams involves impersonations. Law enforcement refers to these scams as the "grandparent scam" or the "family emergency scam." In these scenarios, people receive a call from someone pretending to be a grandchild or a family member. Typically, the scammer explains that he or she is in trouble and needs help. The impersonator adds enough details to make the person believe them, asks for money, and explains that an attorney or police officer will be calling to go over the details. Sometimes the scammer is able to find names of grandchildren on social media before calling their target to make their story more plausible.
This scam recently hit hard in Oneida County where state police estimate seniors lost more than $56,000. Victims received calls from people purporting to be their grandsons who had been arrested and needed help with legal fees. In one case, an 83-year-old couple lost $14,000. In another case, an 87-year-old woman lost $40,000. In both cases, the victims wired money to the impersonator the same day they were contacted because they were afraid of what would happen to their loved ones if they did not act quickly. With this scam, victims were told not to contact any other relatives to verify the claims. Police say this kind of statement is a red flag and people should be wary. One obvious thing people can do if they are unsure if the caller is who they say they are is to ask questions only family members would know the answers to.
Another common scam is a lottery or sweepstakes scam. In these cases, an email or letter is mailed announcing that the recipient has won a prize. The scammers make the correspondence look official and then encourage the recipient to follow easy steps to claim his or her prize including calling a number contained in the email. Once the person is on the phone, the con artist is able to collect personal information saying disclosure of such information is necessary in order to collect the prize. There is never a prize after the victim follows “simple instructions” which almost always includes sending a check or wiring money. The New York State Gaming Commission reminds residents that winners must come forward with a winning ticket to notify the lottery, not the other way around. If you doubt an email or phone call you or a family member have received, you may email the lottery at [email protected] or contact the New York Lottery’s Security Unit at 518-388-3416.
If you suspect a scam, you may contact local law enforcement and file a complaint with the New York State Attorney General’s office by calling the consumer helpline at 800-771-7755 or visiting the Attorney General’s website at https://ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/Filing-a-Consumer-Complaint. People are also encouraged to report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC helps warn the public about scams and people can sign up for email alerts which warn people about popular scams by visiting https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts. If you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.