As the old adage goes, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Lou, a senior citizen from Lindenwood, who did not want to give his last name, said that he recently received a letter telling him that he had won a $15,000 cash prize. All he had to do was send in a $9 registration fee.
“Take the $9 out of the prize,” Lou wrote back.
He never received a reply.
The “free prize” scam is just one of many cons being perpetrated on senior citizens according to Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee and a candidate for Queens borough president, who also discussed several other kinds of scams at the Catholic Charities Howard Beach Senior Center on Feb. 19.
“Don’t buy from anyone who comes to your home or calls you on the phone,” Vallone warned the audience, noting that many scammers target senior citizens.
He urged them to tell any salesman who comes to their house to leave their literature.
“They will never do that,” said Vallone, adding, “They don’t want you to know who they are.”
He alerted the seniors to the “Nigerian letter scam” in which people are contacted by someone from Nigeria and offered millions of dollars if only they will transfer money from a foreign bank account to their own for safekeeping. When someone agrees, they are asked to pay huge transfer fees or legal expenses, but receive no money.
Vallone also discussed the “grandparent scam” in which someone pretending to be the victim’s grandchild will send an email asking for money to solve an unexpected financial problem to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect.
Noting the upsurge in computer viruses, Vallone also warned the seniors not to click on an unknown email. Opening one may unleash a computer virus on their computer, trashing it or stealing personal information.
“It’s serious, serious business,” Vallone said.
Among other scams that consumer protection authorities warn seniors to be wary of are counterfeit prescription drugs; funeral and cemetery scams in which the scammers seek to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower; fraudulent anti-aging products; telemarketing scams such as the fake charity plea; investment schemes that invite people to participate in an investment opportunity and promise spectacular profits with no risk, but cost money; work-at-home scams; vacation and travel scams; Internet fraud and sweepstake and lottery scams.
Vallone noted that even a city councilman is not immune from being targeted by scammers. In an interview after the meeting, he said he was recently targeted in an email scam. He received two similar emails, one purporting to be from a newspaper reporter friend and another allegedly from a colleague.
In this ploy, which has become more common, con artists hijack an actual email address, so the target can easily think the message is legitimate.
The first email stated that the reporter was traveling abroad and was in a foreign hospital and needed money wired for the bill, the second email stated that the colleague was in jail as a result of a bar fight and needed bail money wired. Vallone called his colleague on his cell phone to confirm the email and was told by the colleague that he was in his office down the hall from Vallone.