By Rick Banas of assisted living provider BMA Management, Ltd.
Trudy Wolf-DeRoeck called me last week to alert me to a news story about a couple in their 80s who had been scammed out of their life savings. The story about the couple from Rantoul, Illinois, ran in the News-Gazette, a newspaper that serves East Central Illinois.
Trudy is the Director of Marketing at the Bowman Estates affordable assisted living community that BMA manages in the East Central Illinois town of Danville.
Over a period of time, the couple had been bilked out of more than $100,000 through what is often called the Granny Scam.
Just a week before the story ran in the newspaper, Bowman Estates had hosted a free informational program led by Danville Police Officer Ron Soderstrom that focused on crimes against the elderly and what seniors can do to protect themselves. Ron’s focus as an Elderly Services Officer is on crime prevention.
Crimes against older adults are on the rise, he said, primarily because “you were trained to trust people.” Deals were closed with a handshake.
The Granny Scam was mentioned during the informational program, with Ron talking about a couple in Danville who was more fortunate than the grandparents in Rantoul.
The Danville couple received a phone call at three in the afternoon from someone posing as their grandson down in Tennessee. The caller said that he was having car problems and needed $1,800 to get it fixed. Since he was unable to get in touch with his mother, he was calling his grandparents for help. The caller sounded just like their grandson, the grandparents said.
They, however, avoided the scam because they decided to try calling their daughter before sending any money. Fortunately, their daughter answered the phone; she let them know that their grandson was with her.
Scammers using the Granny Scam often target seniors with calls that wake them up in the middle of the night. A common ploy is for the person posing as the grandson or granddaughter to say they are in trouble because they were stopped and arrested for drunk driving. They need to have money wired to them.
What is amazing is how much personal information the scammers have about the individual they are impersonating.
Another example of a scam mentioned by Officer Soderstrom was the person who received a phone call from a person posing as bank manager. The caller said that the bank needed some help to catch an employee who the bank suspected was involved in criminal activity. The caller asked the person to go to a particular teller at the bank, withdraw $3,000 in cash from their bank account, and drive it to the parking lot of a local store. The cash would be exchanged for a receipt that the person could take to the bank to have their cash returned.
No one at the bank was involved; the person had been scammed out of $3,000.
A bank will never call you to help them catch a criminal, Officer Soderstrom cautioned. Catching criminals is the job of law enforcement agencies such as the Police Department.
Criminals are successful because of people who give them the opportunity to succeed, he said.
Here are some tips from Officer Soderstrom about what you can do to protect yourself:
Do not give out Social Security, Medicare, credit card or banking information to someone who calls you on the phone.
Do not carry around large amounts of cash.
If you have to carry a large amount of cash, keep it in different places rather than all in one place.
Do not flash money when you are out.
Use a bank to withdraw money rather than an ATM.
Get yourself a fanny pack to carry around cash and credit cards. “I have never had a case of someone grabbing a fanny pack,” Officer Soderstrom said.
Do not give out Credit Card numbers on the Internet unless you know the site you are on is legitimate.
Get and use PayPal if you are going to shop on the Internet.
Buddy up when you go out. Go shopping in numbers. Do not shop at night, especially if you are alone.
Officer Soderstrom also cautioned that there is a lot of scamming of older adults by family members, especially if the family member gets under the influence of drugs, alcohol and/or gambling. One reason is that grandparents often have a lot of prescription medicines such as painkillers that have value in the black market on the street.
You should not feel forced or pressured to give people money, Officer Soderstrom said. There are organizations such as the Salvation Army who can help people in need.
If you suspect that someone is trying to scam you or if you have been scammed, call 911. The 911 number is no longer just for emergency calls, Officer Soderstrom said.
“BMA Management is the leading provider of assisted living in Illinois
and one of the 20 largest providers of assisted living in the United States.”