By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller
This is one 84-year-old that the scammers won’t be taking advantage of.
A tried and true scam nearly caught Boise resident Jane Rice, when she received a post card in the mail that stated she’d need to call and give personal information to retrieve an “UNCLAIMED Reward!”
She says she called and asked about the gifts and rebates being offered from Wal-Mart and Target, but was skeptical when they wanted to charge her Visa card $6.50 to activate the card.
After saying politely she was not interested in giving out her credit card number to a stranger, she said goodbye.
But, now she started receiving calls.
“The last one of these calls I just said, ‘You must be crazy. No way!’ They hung up on me,” she says. “I’m still pretty sharp at 84 years.”
In 2010, more than 2,700 seniors reported scams with BBB, in 2011 more than 1,300 were filed, and in 2012, 1,413 were filed. A survey conducted by Investor Protection Trust in June 2010 estimated that 7.3 million older Americans — one out of every five citizens 65 and older — have been victims of financial scams.
In this instance, when you call 855-299-2562, the person explains the purpose of the post card, and how the $100 gift rebates, to be mailed, are valid at Wal-Mart and Target, and only requires “plastic” to pay for the shipping fee of $6.95. When calling, BBB asked the company name – US Benefits – if they worked for Walmart – “official marketing for this Wal-Mart offer,” and if the card could be exchanged locally – “I just need your plastic card to send the gift to you.”
BBB tip: Never give out personal or financial information to someone with whom you’ve not done business.
Common scams against seniors:
1. Grandparent scam — Victims receive a phone call from someone claiming to be a family member stranded far from home. The caller may use the name of a particular family member. They say they are being held in jail, need car repairs or other help and need money wired immediately. The scammers may lace the conversation with correct references to other family members, increasing credibility.
BBB tip: Remain calm and confirm the status of the person by calling him or her directly or verifying the story with other family members before taking any further action.
2. Bereavement scam — Scammers will go through obituaries and use the information to prey on widows and widowers. They will try to sell the surviving spouse things he or she does not need, or say the deceased spouse had debt the surviving spouse must pay.
BBB tip: Offer help to elderly friends or family members if they have recently lost a loved one and are inexperienced in managing finances. If you are uncertain about owing a debt when collectors call, ask for written confirmation.
3. Foreign lotteries — Seniors receive a letter in the mail stating they won a lottery. The letter requests they deposit an enclosed check, wire some of the deposited money back to the company to cover taxes or administrative fees. The check will initially clear, but the bank will eventually find it is fake and remove all the money from the account. The victim is out any money wired back to the scammers.
BBB tip: Never wire money to someone you don’t know. You should never have to send money to receive any winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes. Additionally, participation in a foreign lottery is illegal.
4. Investment and work-at-home opportunities — Promises of easy money often target older adults because they may be looking to supplement their income. The pitch might come in the form of an investment opportunity that promises big returns, or as a way to make money at home for an upfront cost. However, what looks like a great opportunity for seniors is really just a great opportunity for scammers.
BBB tip: Always research work-at-home opportunities with your BBB. Beware of investment or money-making offers that seem too good to be true.