Scammers often target the elderly

I read a report this week that a woman received a call from a man who said he was her grandson. She didn’t know which one so she listed the names. He stopped her at Bryan. He told her that he was arrested in Madrid, Spain, in connection with a drug charge. He needed her to send him bail for the charge.

He told her he was going to testify against the real bad guy but needed to be out of jail in order to help. Another man got on the phone and said that he was a member of the U.S. Consulate’s Office. Still another man got on the phone and said he was an attorney.

All three convinced the woman to send two payments — one for $3,400 and a second for $1,500, plus more than $200 in transfer fees — to a Western Union address.

The woman later became suspicious and then called her grandson Bryan’s mom. She learned he was in college, safe and sound, in Texas.

She’d been duped.

Now you read this and say “How the heck does someone just take the word of someone on the phone and just send money out the window?”

It happens every day.

The old pigeon-drop scams were based on a good sales pitch, delivered to the right victim. The victim had to be elderly and female. Pigeon-drop scams are old bait-and-switch scams involving found money. They still show up from time to time, but more often, scammers now use the Internet.

One scam that floats from time to time is the “hit man” scam. The scammer makes a cold call — or sends an e-mail or text — to the victim saying he was hired to kill the victim. But he’s had a moment of clear, or at least semi-clear, conscious and has decided not to kill the victim — for the right price. They offer to call off the hit in exchange for a few thousand dollars. I’ve never seen someone pay on this one but I’m sure someone, somewhere, had been worried enough about a hit and paid the scammer to call it off.

The bottom line on scams is victim cooperation. You have to play or it won’t work.

Some scams, like the pigeon-drop, are based on the premise the victim will get greedy enough to want in on the thousands, or perhaps millions, of dollars in found money –and will put up “good faith” money to secure his or her reservation for the millionaire club. That money of course, doesn’t exist — except for the money the victim hands over to the scammers, not to be seen again.

Without cooperation from the victim, the scam can’t work.

So, people of the world, including my friends in Clarksville, GA., in lieu of all these scammers preying on our good intentions and, quite frankly, some of our greedy ones, too, the word of the month is this: “Verify.”

That’s right, America. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the awkwardness of asking questions. Scammers won’t hold up to it. They can’t. They don’t have the information to respond.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the poor woman who sent more than $5,000 to some low-life bottom-feeder who’s now probably spending her retirement funds.

Why seniors often are the victims

The call to Bryan’s mom should have most certainly come before money is sent out. We all know that, but there’s a reason they pick seniors to scam. They’re honest and want to help. Many seniors respond because they care. Her grandson was in trouble and she wanted to help. She took the information on face value — until she had time to think about it. So the second, third and fourth words of the month are: “Take your time.”

Verify the information and take your time doing it. Also take some time and speak with your senior relatives and make sure they know these crooks exist. And, although they may sound sweet, desperate or coming across as a family member, remember: The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask — except for my Uncle Dewey who, every time he eats a hamburger, always asks: “How come it’s called a hamburger when it’s not ham?” (This is followed by a couple of “yuk-yuks” from him because everyone else knows the line already and is way over the small bit of humor that it once held.)

That is a dumb question.

10 comments Add your comment

Lt. Steve

February 16th, 2011
2:55 pm

Wish I thought of that.

Kennesaw Dave

February 16th, 2011
4:11 pm

Great article. I almost got scammed on 2 similar scams but little did they know I was an avid reader of this blog as well as a loyal Clark Howard listener. One was on one of the free dating sites where you can create a profile and blah blah blah. So I got an e-mail from what appeared to be an attractive blond from NH of all places, who in choppy English(first clue) that she was stranded in Africa and the hotel manager was holding her baggage hostage until she paid him a certain amount of money. Despite my suggestions to her to try and get assistance from an Amercian embasy she continued to try and solicit money from me. I dropped her like a hot potato. If they Nigerian Scam Associate wants to make any money they really need to teach the scammers better English.

The othere was similar excpet it involved an attractive looking Latino woman who supposedly needd money for her small child who supposedly was in the hospital. Didn’t fall for that one either.


February 16th, 2011
7:37 pm

She didn’t know the sound of her grandson’s voice? She’s even worse than my daughter’s dead beat grand parents Yonghee and Harmon. She deserves what she got.


February 17th, 2011
1:15 pm

Another clue to the woman should have been the way the caller addressed her. Regardless of age, grandkids would still call their grandparents by whatever name they’ve called them for years: Grandma, Grandpa, Me-maw, Paw-paw, Granny, Gramps, Grampy, Grandmama, Granddaddy, Gramma, the list is endless. The caller more than likely called her by her real name, which should have told her that he was a stranger, or else an adult.


February 17th, 2011
1:16 pm

That is, an adult that’s not family or knows her personally.

Cop Supporter

February 17th, 2011
3:52 pm

The 1st clue should have been that she had to name the grandkids names he did not offer it…just a thought

just sayin'

February 17th, 2011
8:12 pm

I hope all of you critics are fortunate, and you, too, will have elderly parents or grandparents someday. They are a concern. One day you wake up and wonder when it was exactly that the roles reversed? Unexpected news jolts them and their thoughts are not always logical. “Grandson in trouble,” probaby registered in this lady’s head, and before she realized it, she was naming them for this jerk. My dad does not recognize all of his children’s voices over the phone, nevermind grandchildren’s. My dad is lucky if he can name them. Even though there are only 5 women in the world who call him Dad, he can’t always figure out who is on the line without a hint, regardless as to whether or not the TV or radio is blaring in the background. One of our biggest fears is realized when he answers the phone – because he forgets to press the “off” button to hang up. The phone could be off the hook for hours and neither of them would know it. My mother insists on going out on her own – she doesn’t want to be dropped off, she wants to do it her way, at her pace. She does not want to give up any of her independence. She’s 87. We keep tabs on her.


February 18th, 2011
9:19 am

Another reason why the elderly are such good targets is that they’re afraid to admit their errors. It’s embarrassing when your memory is slipping and things you should know don’t always come easily. They may not be willing to conceded that they don’t have the same mental capacity.

Plus, they often don’t want loved ones to know what happens so they don’t report the crimes. Maybe they’re afraid that their children will take legal steps to become their custodians or insist on being more involved in the financial decisions or day to day steps. It’s a loss of freedom and humiliating that they’re no longer adults but now the children.

Also, there’s just humiliation in general that they fell for a scan.

Great Stuff!!

February 21st, 2011
7:23 am

You have no idea about the scams that senior citizens themselves play on the the introverted, the shy, and the dutiful stranger. Once I saw this old, old lady, struggling to get herself across this busy street in New York City. Well, she kept making it about a third of the way across before she had to scurry back to where I was standing to save herself from the rush of crazed, distracted cash cabs and horse drawn carriages. She was just so slow and doddling. But I wasn’t going to fall for it. I can smell a grift.

So this goes on for a few light changes. Each time she takes out a hanky and starts wiping the tears of frustratin from her face. Oh, boo hoo, grandma. Maybe if you’d get a running start you’d make it. And throw down that stupid cane. Yeah, I really let that con-lady have it. Nobody gets the drop on me. I watch 60 minutes. I read View from the Cop. I know things that you have no idea about.

So finally the old lady starts making eye contact with me and starts mugging an expression that pleads for help. Game on. I figure it wouldn’t be long B4 a cop walked by, so I plays along wid’ the widow. I start coaching her. Okay, Lady, you asked for it. Get in a three point stance, I’ll count down from five, four three two one GO!!

The old bag of bones didn’t say a thing. She just looked incredulous in my direction. Go ‘head, lady, raise that cane to me. See what happens. That’s when the cop showed up.

“Alright, what’s going on here?”

The panting, sobbing old crook began complaining and pointing with her cane at me, “He won’t help me across the street.” The cop actually took out his billy club and started waving it over my head. “What’s the matter you? You helpa dis’ lady across the street or I’m bringing you in”.

I then realized that the lady wasn’t a scam artist, but a really old woman who really couldn’t make it across the street. I felt so ashamed. The cop said, “I think you better buy this lady a cab ride home,” and he signaled for a cab which immediately appeared.

“Take this lady home,” I barked at the cab, and handed him a credit card. The cop and the old bag then jumped in the back of the cab and the three of them took off with my credit card, the dirty rats.

It’s taken me thirty years to admit I got scammed in New York. Why? Cause of the humilitation. You see, the old lady was me mum.


February 23rd, 2011
1:06 pm

I may be the only female to call her MOM, but I alway identify myself to my Mom when I call. Children should be taught to identify themselves even when calling family members. Why should a 90 year old grandmother be expected to recognize a multitude of voices, especially if she only hears them a couple of times a year. My mom is 80 with a grandson who could very easily be calling her from jail. So I think I will mention this scam to her.