By Sally Hurme
September 01, 2015
From schemes and scams to frauds and cons, when it comes to the latest tricks used to steal money and information, you name it and I’ve probably touched it ortalked about it. My name is Sally Hurme and for the last two decades I’ve done consumer and financial education at AARP — everything from telemarketing fraud to identity theft.
That’s why I was so surprised the day I came home to discover my own husband had been a victim of a classic scam – the imposter scam, also known as the grandparent scam.
It goes like this: my husband received a telephone call claiming that our daughter was in the Los Angeles County Jail. The caller claimed to be an attorney who needed $3,000 immediately to help get her out of trouble.
The truth was, our daughter was safe and sound teaching Biology in Virginia and the caller was a skilled con artist who put on quite a performance. Using psychological points, he convinced my husband to go to the bank and withdraw money that he used to purchase prepaid cards. He then gave the card numbers to the con artist and followed the instructions not to tell anyone and to wait for a phone call that she was out of jail and coming home. Of course, the phone call never came.
And just like that, $3,000 was gone. When I found out what was happening, it was already too late.
Of course, we reported the scam to local law enforcement, the state attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission – even the prepaid card company. But those reports aren’t going to get our money back. Top fraud experts, including myself, know that once the money is gone, there is no way to catch these crooks.
Con artists are smooth experts at tricking people into giving them their personal information and sending them money.
So how can you protect yourself? Some things to watch out for so you don’t fall victim to the imposter scam:
• Be informed about how this and other scams work. Sign up for alerts on the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
• A request to wire money or use a prepaid card is a sure sign of a scam.
• Slow down the transaction—they want you to act before you have time to think.
• Independently verify anything they tell you, especially if they stress not to.
• Use caller id and don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number or the number is blocked.
• Hang up–get off the phone as fast as you can. Don’t be polite to a thief.
• Don’t think you can outsmart them. This is what they do all day, every day so they know more tricks than you can think of.
Sally Balch Hurme, J.D., has led the national conversation on many of the legal issues of concern to older persons and their families. Whether the issue is how to make decisions for others, plan for what comes next, or avoid fraud, she’s been in the forefront. She has focused her professional career on explaining the law so everyone can understand it. Although Sally retired from AARP this year after 23 years as one of the national experts on financial exploitation, she’s still speaking out about how to spot and stop scams. She’s the author of the award winning ABA/AARP Checklist series: Checklist for My Family, Checklist for Family Caregivers, and Checklist for Family Survivors.