The email had the same name and email address as a reader who’s written to me several times, but it was short and didn’t sound right. It said, “How are you? I need an urgent favor from you.” That’s all. It was signed with a short version of the person’s first name, which she’d never used before, so I was suspicious from the start.
But, just in case it was really her, I replied, “Could you be more specific?”
The reply came the next morning: “Thanks for the response. I need to get Google play gift cards for a friend of mine who has cancer of the liver, it’s her birthday and I promised to get her Amazon gift cards but I can’t do this now because I’ve an important meeting to attend. Can you get it from any store around you for me? I’ll reimburse you immediately when I get back. Kindly let me know if you can handle this so I can tell you the amount and how to get them to me.”
Oh sure. First of all, I knew the real person would never ask me to do that since we’d never met. Second, the emails came a day apart, yet the writer claimed they couldn’t do it themselves because they had a meeting. A two-day meeting?
I replied and asked who they were and that they’d been reported for hacking someone’s email account. Of course, I never heard back. I then tried to find a phone number for the real person, but wasn’t successful, so had to wait to hear from her again. And I did, at a different email address, saying her email had been hacked and that many of her friends had received the same message. Sadly, some had actually purchased the cards and lost their money.
But the threats don’t come only from emails. Not long ago, one of my close friends received a call from a stranger who said someone had scammed her Amazon account by a large amount, but if she’d get a Walmart gift card for $125, he’d eliminate the false charges. He wanted her to use her cell phone and stay on the line until she got to the store. My friend’s cell phone was dead, so she had to plug it in and wait almost an hour for it to be fully charged. Meanwhile, the person stayed on the line and kept talking to her as if she was an old friend. Since she didn’t live near a Walmart, she drove to one almost 20 miles away. She was still on the phone as she picked out a card but, luckily, the clerk told her he wouldn’t sell it to her because he was sure it was a scam and that they’d had to warn several other people about it that same day. She was lucky the clerk was aware and honest or she, too, would have lost money.
Then there are the scams where someone calls and says they’re calling for a relative like a grandchild, etc., and that they need money for bail, or some other reason. Unfortunately, a lot of people fall for it.
The pandemic made it even worse than it was before. According to an article in the May AARP bulletin, “total consumer losses to online crooks in 2020 surpassed $4.2 billion, with almost half of that amount lost by people age 50-plus.” The FBI reported that was a 69% jump from 2019 and showed an average dollar loss of $9,484. The report noted that one of the main ways the thieves get money is by posing as technicians “who will ‘resolve’ a nonexistent issue such as a compromised bank account or computer virus–if you pay them first.” Don’t fall for it. If anyone has questions about their bank account, credit card company or other financial service, call them directly.
Seniors also need to take precautions regarding their finances and their wills to make sure some greedy, unauthorized person doesn’t try to scam them or their true heirs out of their life-long savings. There’s an excellent article in the April/May edition of AARP, The Magazine, that warns of those dangers and how to avoid scams and fraud.
Speaking of AARP, the membership cost is fully worth it, if only for its extremely informative and high-quality bimonthly magazine and its 10 annual Bulletins. But even if you’re not a member, if you have a question about a possible scam, or think you’re a target of one, you can call their toll-free Fraud Watch Network helpline at 877-908-3360 to get assistance or make a report.
It’s sad that it’s come to this. Be careful out there.
Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at email@example.com.