‘SCAM JAM’ Program seeks to keep seniors from becoming victims
There’s an old adage – if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That was the message imparted to attendees of a program called “Scam Jam: Fight Back” held May 20 at Country Meadows Retirement Community in Bethlehem Township. The event, sponsored by AARP Pennsylvania and Country Meadows, was designed to help seniors protect themselves from frauds and scams.
“Remember, it’s your money, and some people will do anything they can to take it.” said Mary Bach, a consumer advocate who leads AARP Pennsylvania’s all volunteer Consumer Issues Task Force.
Bach disseminated stories about various frauds and scams, many coming from phone calls or through computer messages. While the scams were diverse, their tactics were similar – manipulation and deception of their victim’s emotions.
“It’s important for you to think,” she told audience members. “If something doesn’t seem right to you, it is a red flag moment.” To illustrate the point, Bach waved a red flag tied to a stick.
She told stories about various phone scams. One, called the grandparents scam, typically involves a phone call in the middle of the night by someone pretending to be a grandchild in legal complications needing money to avoid prison time. Another hustle involves a sweepstakes ploy. For example, a potential victim receives a phone call saying they’ve won one of three prizes. Money, a new car, or a “desk storage” system.
“We all understand money and a new car,” Bach said.
But invariably the “winner” never receives either. Rather, they win the “desk storage” system. Bach relayed the story of one woman who would receive her prize by sending $89 to a P.O. box. The woman did, and a few days later, she regretted it when she received a small box to hold pencils, pens and paper clips that typically is stored on a desk as her “desk storage” system. List price, about a buck.
In retrospect, she said, it seems ridiculous that anyone would fall for that. But with enough “sweet talking,” manipulating and outright lying, scammers con enough people to make money.
“It’s no less a crime than if someone stuck a gun into you and said ‘give me your money,’” said Terry Houck, first deputy attorney of Northampton County. Houck added that the district attorney’s office takes these crimes seriously and will, to the extent of the law, seek prosecution and punishment for those inovlved. However, he added, “we don’t know what we don’t know.
“We’re trying to protect you,” he told the audience. “But we can’t do anything if you don’t report it.”
There are many reasons why a senior citizen victim would not report a crime, Bach noted. Often, they are embarrased they were taken. Other times, they worried family members and friends will criticize them and question whether they are, in the words of Bach, “losing it” mentally.
“None of us want to be thought of as that,” she said.
Bach and Houck said they hoped their presentations mollified some of the stigma associated with being a victim.
“There isn’t too small a case,” Houck said. “If you paid for a service, then you are entitled to a service.”