Seniors should be wary of people targeting them for “crimes of opportunity, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said when she visited the Watertown Senior Center last week to talk about scams.
She warned seniors that scams come in all shapes and sizes, and the criminals can be quite clever and they target older people.
“If you live in Massachusetts and you are a senior you are much less likely to be the victim of a crime. You are not out at 3 a.m. and I assume you do not have a lot of friends in a gang,” Ryan said. “But another thing is also true. You are as liable as anyone to be the victim of a crime of opportunity.”
Scams can come by phone, email or even text message, Ryan said, who served as chief of the Middlesex DA’s Elder and Disabled Unit before she became DA. The IRS scam, where someone calls demanding you pay your back taxes or you risk being arrested is a common one. She said the IRS will never call you asking for money.
Other scams are called “phishing,” “vishing” and “SMiShing,” where you might get a call or email about an offer. One of the more common one is that you have won a lottery in another country, and to collect, all you have to do is send a check for the taxes. This, of course is fake. Ryan said seniors should think about the offer.
“I have a simple rule, if you didn’t play the lottery, you didn’t win the lottery,” Ryan said. “If you didn’t go to Nigeria and play the lottery, you didn’t win the Nigerian lottery.”
These crimes can be hard to prosecute, Ryan said, because the perpetrators tend to be overseas.
Ryan herself has even been the victim of a scam, and she said it can happen to pretty much anyone.
She decided to get a video from one of the self-serve machines at a supermarket, and a few days later she got a call from her credit card company about a strange purchase.
“I got a call saying my credit card was buying a video console in Brooklyn,” Ryan said. “I wasn’t in Brooklyn.”
When she rented the DVD, she found that she had a little trouble getting the card to go into the slot. The credit card employee said that was likely a skimming device put into the slot that takes people’s credit card number and then the criminal can use it.
The crimes of opportunities are not all high tech. Sometimes it can be someone taking a purse out of a carriage at the grocery store. Or, it could even be someone they know taking advantage of them.
Ryan said she has seen many instances where people have given access to their bank account, or given power of attorney to son, daughter, niece or nephew. After that, they have as much access to the money in the accounts, or to put a mortgage on the house as they do.
Parking lots, in particular, can be a place where seniors are victimized.
“You turn on your car to let it warm up or cool off and leave the door unlocked,” Ryan said. “My father-in-law did that and someone jumped in the car and drove away. A lot of thinking it through will keep you safe.”