Our Opinion: Beware: Scammers are preying on seniors

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It is difficult to imagine an act of larceny more heinous than bilking a grandmother out of her savings. Unfortunately, society is replete with individuals so lacking in scruples — and so effective at their craft — that even those who consider themselves relatively savvy can still fall for time-honored scam tactics.

Joyce Wrend, an 82-year-old North Adams resident, was euchred out of a total of $23,000 in three installments by con men who contacted her by phone to tell her that her grandson was in legal trouble and needed bail money. Ms. Wrend, who according to friends is confident, caring and shows leadership and concern for causes in her community, ignored the usual red flags out of a reflexive concern for her progeny.

The "grandparent scam" has proved so effective that the tactic has become the most popular in the con man's bag of tricks, according to Elliott Greenblott, AARP's Vermont fraud watch coordinator and a contributor to The Eagle. According to Mr. Greenblott, seniors are more vulnerable to such emotional heartstring-tugging than young people, enough so that the anxiety engendered by such an appeal can overwhelm the victim's customary reasoning powers. As Ms. Wrend acknowledged, "I thought I was somewhat sophisticated, and they were able to drag me into this."

To Ms. Wrend's credit, she had the courage to overcome her original embarrassment and self-criticism to contact her family and authorities, as well as to share her experience with The Eagle so that it might act as a warning to other potential victims. While still stung by the scam, she takes solace in the knowledge that her beloved grandson is safe and sound. She is not the first, nor will she be the last, to fall prey to such operators. After all, they are professionals who have honed their spiel into an art form. They practice it daily, while the mark at the other end of the line may have never encountered such a crime or imagined it could happen to them.

Mr. Greenblott provided various tips to safeguard against being tricked, but most of them apply once the potential victim has become suspicious, like testing the scammer by asking what pet name the alleged family member uses for them, or asking specific questions of them to which only they would know the answer.

Most important for everyone, whether they suspect the caller or not, is never to send cash or gift cards through the mail, particularly as the result of a cold call. Another piece of advice unmentioned by Mr. Greenblott is that any call originating from or suggesting that money be sent to Florida is a major tipoff. Florida has a well-earned reputation as the scam capital of the world, due to its transient nature. In Ms. Wrend's case, the scammers requested that the monies be sent to addresses in Hialeah and Coral Gables in that state.

Berkshirites should be grateful to Ms. Wrend for turning her misfortune into a learning experience. When someone as alert as that North Adams senior can be bamboozled, the only defense the rest of us have is to be reminded that the perpetrators are out there, and that they never rest.




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