Ohio AG’s Office offers tips for thwarting senior scams

Danielle Murphy from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office presented on phone scams and identity theft efforts targeting senior citizens at St. Francis Home, 182 St. Francis Ave., Wednesday afternoon.

Scams targeting seniors are a particular priority for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office because though seniors make up about 15% of the population, they report more than 30% of fraud that occurs each year, Murphy said.

“Seniors may be more likely targets for scammers because they have more assets, considering they’re retired and have money put away from their working lives, and may be less likely to report a scam because they may be independent and isolated or too embarrassed to admit they’ve been the victim of fraud,” Murphy said.

Murphy went through a selection of common, current scams that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office have come to know about in her presentation Wednesday.

Beginning with phone scams, Murphy mentioned “grandparent scams” and “impostor scams.”

“A ‘grandparent scam’ involves getting a call from someone who claims to be your grandson or granddaughter and then asking for money for some emergency or legal issue or something like that,” she said.

“To be sure you’re talking to your grandchild, pick up a second phone or someone else’s phone nearby and try calling your family member with that,” she said. “Also, it’s good to come up with a nickname or codeword to always use with your grandkids and family on the phone, something that scammers wouldn’t know about.”

Murphy said that “grandparent scams” can be tricky to spot, though, because scammers can look up personal and family information about people on Facebook before calling, which gives them information about family members and names.

She said that many scammers will ask for the money in particular and sometimes peculiar forms as well, such as in Amazon or iTunes gift cards or prepaid money cards.

“Just don’t send anyone money who calls you over the phone,” she said.

Murphy also discussed “impostor scams” which involve a caller claiming that they are from a government or business organization, such as the IRS or Social Security Office, in order to gather personal information.

“You won’t ever be called by the Social Security Office,” she said. “They’ll send something in the mail if they need to get a hold of you. And no matter what, don’t give out personal information over the phone.”

Murphy said phone scammers are able to spoof caller ID numbers when they call using an app, making it appear to potential scam victims that they are receiving a call from a business or government organization.

On the topic of robocalls, or phone calls made by computerized auto-dialers that transmit recorded messages, Murphy said that scammers are able to put in area codes that are local to you, so that you think the number might be from a local entity you might need to hear from.

“When you pick up a robocall, the scammer behind it then knows that you have an active line and that somebody is there to pick up,” she said. “Don’t answer calls that don’t have caller ID or calls from unknown numbers, because if they’re from a legitimate source they’ll leave a voicemail or message if they need you.”

“If in doubt about the origin of a phone call, immediately hang up the phone and call that organization back on a number you can trust, that you’ve looked up,” she said.

Murphy also mentioned that there are apps available meant to help stop robocalls and a website, nomorobo.com, which can set one’s phone line up to block robocalls.

“There may be a fee involved, and your phone provider has to allow and accept this,” she said.

Other common scams mentioned in Murphy’s presentation included computer repair scams, in which people call and say they can fix your computer if you give them remote access to it, and then often hold the computer itself for ransom until you pay them more money, and also “romance and sweethearts scams,” which involve people leading fraudulent online relationships in order to procure money from them.

“You can run antivirus programs yourself on your computer, so try that first when you receive a pop-up message about viruses on your computer,” she said. “And never give anyone access to your computer.”

“And as for online relationships, be sure to research anyone you meet online,” she said.

Murphy then gave some tips for maintaining a clean, virus and spyware-free computer.

“Be sure to install and update antivirus and anti-spyware programs, which can be bought at local computer stores and other retail stores. Delete suspicious emails and don’t click on suspicious attachments or links in emails,” she said.

“Be sure to use secure websites when using personal information of any kind, which are websites that have an ‘s’ after the ‘http’ in the front of the URL. And don’t provide personal information at all when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi,” she said.

At the end of her presentation, Murphy offered a list of tips to always keep in mind when dealing with these types of messages through phone calls, emails or pop-ups on one’s computer.

“Don’t volunteer information to a caller, and also ask people what they are going to do with your personal information,” she began. “And never carry extraneous personal information with you, like Social Security cards.”

“You should also check your credit. Everybody gets one free annual credit report from a federal reporting agency,” she said.

“Some other tips to keep in mind as well: you never need to make large down payments for services, and you never need to pay taxes upfront for sweepstakes winnings,” she said. “So offers that involve these methods are fraudulent.”

“Scammers also use scare tactics like pressuring you to act quickly, or threatening to ransom your information or computer access,” she said.

And Murphy’s simplest piece of advice might also be the most effective, in any circumstance.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” she said.

Contact the Ohio Attorney General’s office to report a scam or for more information by phone at (800) 282-0515 or through their website at OhioProtects.org.