Are you a sucker for a sad story or are you wanting to make some quick cash?

If so, you might be vulnerable to allowing somebody to take your cash.

Local authorities say telephone and email scams, especially those targeting the elderly, are becoming more prevalent. In 2018, 15% of all scams nationwide targeted seniors aged 70 and over, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“When people in their 70s did lose money, the amount tended to be higher. Their median loss was $751 compared to $400 for people in their 20s,” the FTC reported on its website.

“We get hundreds of calls a week, and 80% of those calls are from seniors,” said Tricia Pruitt, regional vice president for Better Business Bureau of North Alabama, which covers 13 counties. “Seniors are our best source at detecting scams and providing information to help us fill in the blanks, even (if) they don’t fall for the scam.”

Pruitt said the BBB is receiving more calls from seniors being scammed on online dating websites.

“People will call and talk with the lonely seniors,” she said. “The scammer will gain their trust and come up with a story on why they need money. Sometimes the senior will send the money to help out their new friend, never to see or hear from their friend again. ”

Local authorities said two other recent scams aimed at senior citizens involve fraudulent stories that a loved one has been kidnapped or that a grandchild has been jailed.

“We’ve had three calls in the past 60 days where the caller will tell the grandparent their grandson is in the county jail and they need to send money immediately for their release,” said Mike Swafford, public information officer for the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office. “Unfortunately, one senior fell for it, but two others didn’t and called to report it.”

Authorities said law enforcement agencies won’t ask for money over the telephone. A popular scam involves a law enforcement agency impostor calling somebody and telling them the police have a warrant for their arrest and if they send money immediately the warrant will be dismissed, Pruitt said.

“These calls target all ages. The scammers try to frighten people, especially seniors, into sending money as soon as possible,” said Moulton Police Chief Lyndon McWhorter. “Our police department never makes phone calls telling someone they owe X amount of money. I don’t know of any law enforcement agency or IRS that asks for money over the phone.”

Decatur police spokeswoman Emily Long said if a suspect telephone call involves the purchase of a gift card, “99% of the time it is a scam.”

“It takes much less time to prevent a scam than to try to work through it,” Long said. “If you have questions, just tell them you will call them back. Oftentimes they won’t give you a phone number.”

Pruitt said a local resident contacted the BBB office last month about receiving a letter about being a Secret Shopper. She said the letter came from a “survey and research” company representative along with a worthless $3,250 cashier’s check to purchase a separate cashier's check and Walmart gift card. The resident was to reveal the card number and text it to a 937 area code phone number along with notes on the customer service response from the store’s cashier. The 937 area code is for southwest Ohio including Dayton.

The first survey assignment detailed in the letter from an apparent scammer: “1. You’d evaluate your bank in the process of cashing the check received and also purchasing a cashier check. 2. Shopping at two Walmart stores comparing their services.”

The letter asked the resident to purchase a cashier's check of $50 made out to the American Cancer Society and take a photo of the check and text the photo to the 937 number, and then to purchase a Walmart gift card for $2,700 and text the scratched-off numbers to the 937 phone number. The resident was also told to keep $350, according to the letter.

A telephone call and text to the "research" company's representative went unanswered.

Pruitt said scams involving working at home are popular and target seniors.

“We actually get more work-related scams, and often those involve purchasing different gift cards,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to pay to do a job.”

Pruitt said another popular scam is one where the scammer calls and says an illegal immigrant in Texas has stolen the potential victim's Social Security number to obtain federal benefits. The caller ask for a certain amount of money to protect the victim’s number, she said. “People often will pay quickly to stop the illegal immigrant,” Pruitt said.

Area officials warned that consumers shouldn't give out personal information to strangers.

Federal or local agencies will never ask you to deliver personal information over the phone, they said.

Pruitt said a free public workshop involving scam and fraud will be held July 31 at the Entrepreneurial Center at 1629 Fourth Ave. S.E., Decatur. Interested people should call 256-355-5170. or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.
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