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Queens Chronicle

PRIME TIMES: 60 Plus Robocall scams are targeting seniors

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2019 10:30 am

Spoofing is no longer a joke.

Once upon a time, it commonly referred to imitations of something — perhaps a film genre or one particular film — for comic effect.

Today, the term has taken on much more serious connotations and lawmakers and law enforcers are taking action in an effort to curb the proliferation of this practice.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, spoofing refers to attempts to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity. Caller ID spoofing is the deliberate falsification of information transmitted to a caller ID display in an effort to disguise the caller’s true identity.

The practice has turned into an epidemic.

“Spoofing has been one of the fastest growing forms of fraud in America,” according to Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing).

Her Anti-Spoofing Act, which was signed into law in March, provides “new and critical tools to stop those who perpetrate this deceitful and malicious crime,” she said.

On the state level, Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) has a bill that has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection, which he hopes will help put an end to the practice.

“We need to start updating and strengthening our privacy laws, especially those relating to personal information, to meet the new technological challenges of the 21st century,” he said.

According to Capt. Jonathan Cermeli, the commanding officer of the 112th Precinct, the key is education.

“I try to get the awareness out there,” he said. “Time and time again people are falling victims to scams. I advise everyone to call us first if you think something is sketchy. It’s gotten out of control with those robocalls.”

The captain indicated that “scams are all over the place. They used to affect the elderly; now there are even victims in their 20s.

“It’s a crime that does not need to happen,” he said. “Our biggest tool is education.” He frequently speaks at senior centers, community board meetings and other group gatherings to help spread the word.

In Forest Hills and Rego Park, he has seen a decline in telephone scams, but he is not satisfied yet. “I want to see it at zero,” he said.

The Association of Mature American Citizens, a senior advocacy organization, indicates that “robocall social security administration scams are on the rise.” According to AMAC, over 76,000 reports of imposters have been filed in the past 12 months, with losses estimated at $19 million per the Federal Trade Commission.

It warns that stolen Social Security accounts can be used to take out loans in a victim’s name and as a way of extorting money.

AMAC’s advice is to hang up on such calls and call the SSA at 1 (800) 772-1213 to report any such incidents.

Perhaps even more startling are some statistics posted by AARP on its website, which indicates that nearly 48 billion robocalls — or 146 for every person in America — were placed nationwide in 2018, up 57 percent from the previous year.

“Whatever the message, don’t engage,” AARP warns.

Additional advice it offers includes hanging up on suspicious callers; not pressing any keys or saying anything in response to prerecorded messages, which could lead to more spam calls; and not judging a call by caller ID alone, as masking a caller’s true location is often in effect.

Kim advises, “Try not to answer calls from unknown numbers, especially if you’re not expecting a call. If you do and hear a voice you don’t recognize, hang up right away.”

He further suggests, “Don’t follow any instructions they make, even if they say it’s to stop getting calls.”

Perhaps most importantly, he adds: Don’t answer any questions, even simple” yes and no” ones. And never give out personal information.

According to Kim, it is worth considering signing up for the Do Not Call registry. “This may not prevent all robocalls or scam attempts, but it will let you know those types of calls you still receive are illegal and those callers cannot be trusted.”

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