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Elderly must learn how to avoid being victimized

March 22, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - When Jane Palmer heard about the latest phone scam being perpetuated on seniors her reaction was strong.

"That makes me sick," said Palmer, Marquette Senior Center coordinator.

A warning about the nationwide scam has been delivered by AARP. In the scam, a senior is notified they've won a prize of some sort and when the senior calls to find out more, the person on the other end will endeavour to keep a senior on the phone, racking up minutes. The twist is the call could involve a number with a "premium rate" area code in which the charges range from $1.49 to $3.99 per minute.

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AARP's warning said the sky-high rates are split between the phone carrier and the line's operators.

"A lot of seniors are at home, are alone and are going to talk to people," Palmer said. "They won't realize that they are being charged in this way."

While the scammer might not ask for any personal information during the conversation, they may put the senior on hold, transfer the call or just chit-chat in order to rack up minutes, which in turn ratchets up the senior's phone bill.

Palmer said seniors can be vulnerable for a number of reasons.

"The senior might not have talked to anyone all day," Palmer said. "They will hear the person out, if even they don't know them.

"These seniors grew up in an era where it was rude to hang up on anyone," Palmer said. "They are longing for small talk and will be engaged by that."

Marquette Police Detective Capt Gordie Warchock has seen many scams targeting seniors throughout his years on the force.

"The pitches can vary," Warchock said. "But the whole goal is to separate you from your money."

While a person of any age can be the victim of a scam, many do target seniors.

Like one announced by police last week: An 89-year-old Marquette woman was told she had won a lottery but needed to pay the taxes first before she could claim her prize. She sent out one package with more than $30,000 in it, then had mailed another with $20,000 which was retrieved before it left the area after police were notified.

"We were able to recover part of her money," he said. "But it was too late to get back what had already been sent."

Warchock said another scam involved a caller telling an elderly woman her grandson had been in an accident in Mexico and couldn't get his passport back until his fines were paid.

Often these pitches involve a loved one being hospitalized in a foreign country and needing help.

"It's really clever how they do some of this," Warchock said. "We recently had an individual who was selling his car on Craig's List. The woman who was buying the car said she was sending a guy to pick up the car and said she would send a check for the amount plus $700 and asked the individual to give the man the $700 for transporting the car.

"The guy who picked up the car probably didn't know he was part of the scam and the $700 was probably wired by him through Western Union to the person who wanted the car."

The check, of course, turned out to be no good.

Other scams, including one that happened recently in Marquette, tell a person he or she has won a lottery or some kind of prize.

"If you receive an unsolicited call like that, hang up," Warchock said. "Contact a family member or law enforcement if you have any questions. 99.9 percent of these calls are not legit."

For those with caller ID, Warchock recommends not answering a call from an unknown phone number. And getting caller ID might be a wise move for anyone of any age.

"Once you start talking to one of these scammers, the number of phone calls will increase," he said. "They will keep contacting you.

"So hang up. If someone is trying to reach you for something important, something legitimate, they will find a way."

Warchock said seniors may try to be polite, but it's better to not take any chances.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," he said. "The best thing to do is to hang up and then if you think it's a scam, call law enforcement."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.



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