PILOT MOUNTAIN — Carol Young, outreach specialist for the Office of Attorney General Roy Cooper, recently spoke to the YVEDDI Senior Enrichment Program seniors by pointing out scam artists see opportunities where the rest of society sees a shortcut to having to remember so much personal information.
“I used to ask participants in this program to take out their wallets,” began Young. “If you have nothing more than a social security card and credit cards in there, you are vulnerable. Scam victims are anyone. Education and edge does not make a difference. Scams happen at home, by phone and by mail.”
She said a popular opportunity for thieves in the region is when women put down their pocketbooks and “visit” allowing someone to steal personal information.
“Scams happen because it is easy for them (thieves) and very profitable,” added Young. “It is often an under reported crime as well so there is less chance for them to be prosecuted.” She reminded seniors anyone can commit identification theft including friends, family and co-workers. She told those who were not likely to want any new credit cards to use a security freeze to stop credit bureaus from releasing any information to new creditors without their approval.
She also suggested seniors check their credit reports every four months to be sure there are no charges on them that are not theirs. She told seniors to copy their social security card and make a copy and black out as many numbers on the copy as they can remember. She then told them to put the original card in a safe place and make a second copy of the blacked out card and shred the first copy.
Another simple safeguard, according to Young, is to not let mail accumulate in a mailbox. She told the group to pay close attention to mail deliveries especially when billing statements are due. She said any sudden gap in what is normally a routine arrival of a bill could mean a scam artist has filled out a change of address card for the mail and is having personal information sent to them. She said having the postmaster hold mail when a person is on vacation is also a good idea. She encouraged the seniors to signed up for the do-not-call registry but also cautioned them.
“Scam artists don’t honor the do-not-call list,” cautioned Young. “Personal information you are going to put in the trash should be shredded with a cross-cut shredder.” She also had some security suggestions for those who are not comfortable paying bills online.
Young told the participants to use checks which do not have their driver’s license number, date of birth or social security number on them. She also suggested making arrangements with their personal banks to receive new checks and call them when the checks arrive because a box of blank checks delivered to a mailbox is a tempting opportunity for scam artists.
She explained a common scam where a caller pretends to be a family member who asks for grandma and grandpa to send them money to get out of jail. Young recommended taking a name and number and telling the caller they will call back. Seniors should then call and verify if the family members involved are indeed in a situation where the caller said they are.
Other protective measures Young suggested included not carrying PIN numbers, even if they are disguised, and to protect passwords by using words which are at least eight characters, numbers, symbols and both upper and lower case letters. She reminded them to stay away from obvious password choices based on favorite hobbies or pets’ names. She also suggested having a copy of the front and back of credit cards in a secure place so the service numbers can be quickly used to report theft.
Other common scams Young talked about were door-to-door schemes and lottery notifications. She told the group never to respond to lottery notifications and to only use local firms for services such as sealing driveways. Any checks for prize money can be verified by taking them to a local bank for examination.
“Never pay money to get money,” warned Young. “Especially for a lottery you just never bothered to enter. If it is too good to be true, it’s not.” She told them scams also can occur in the fall for charitable funds and tax scams and are prevalent as thieves get enough personal information to file a tax return to claim the refund.
She also told the group one of the most common schemes is a “sweetheart” scam where a scam artist pretends to be in love and then fabricates an emergency which they need money to remedy. She said any request for money in an online relationship is a bad sign and told the group to never send money in answer to this request. Young told the participants who may buy or sell on Craig’s List to always meet in a public place with “lots of people” and to always use cash.
Senior Enrichment Program Director Brenda Holbrook told the group fundraisers for the center had earned enough money to offset the loss of funds due to sequestration and it would be “business as usual” at the center. She also recognized Judge Spencer Key for attending the talk.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.