Scammers are criminals who will say and do anything to steal your savings. Scammers love to target older adults because of their tendency to trust. Continuous advances in information technology have made the world a highly connected place, making it easy for foreign-based crooks to con you by phone, text, social media or email.
One of the most popular scams coming from overseas is the “advanced fee” scam. Here’s how it works.
A scammer contacts you claiming to have a large sum of money that they need to move to the United States but need your help to move it from a foreign country, usually Nigeria. In return for your help moving the money, and the sum is usually in the millions, you are promised a substantial commission. The catch is, before the money can be sent, you have to pay up front for an endless list of things, such as commissions, underwriting, processing, taxes or regulatory fees.
The beauty of the scam is that everything seems risk-free. After all, you are being asked to pay only a tiny percentage of a huge sum that will be transferred to YOU. After paying upfront, usually by wire transfer, victims often receive a bogus check in the mail.
Hundreds of American seniors fall for some version of the advance fee scam every day. The basic proposition of this scam is you will get a great deal of money for nothing. If you are ever contacted by anyone who proposes to send you any amount of money and just asks for a relatively small “fee,” immediately disengage. Anyone calling from Nigeria, or anywhere else, proposing to send you millions of dollars is a scammer.
Advance fee scams take many forms, including the promise of the following things:
• a luxury vehicle
• sweepstakes winnings from a foreign lottery
• a forgotten horde of gold coins or bullion
• a check written for millions of dollars
• an unclaimed estate
• bonds, letters of credit, or unclaimed funds from a government program.
The Department of Justice recently prosecuted three foreign individuals now serving time in federal prison for fleecing Americans out of more than $1.2 million. The crooks told victims they were assisting a dying cancer patient who needed help to distribute $55 million to American charities. In exchange for a victim’s help, the scammers offered a 20 percent commission to the victim’s charity of choice.
The victims received a fake “Letter of Authority” or a “Certificate of Deposit” making it seem the funds were very real. Sometimes the scammers even followed up with calls to victims, with a person on the line masquerading as a dying cancer patient.
After sending money in advance by wire transfer, victims received nothing. Scammers are unbelievably heartless and cruel.
International criminals know American seniors are easy marks, often trusting anyone with the right sob story. Stay alert and remember what our folks told us when we were growing up “you don’t get something for nothing.”
Summer season is back, and the days are the longest of the year now. Enjoy all the wonderful things the Valley has to offer — great parks, lakes, music festivals and some excellent hot dog shops! And when the scammers call, HANG UP.
Dave Long of Poland, a Youngstown State University graduate, is a retired public affairs officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection who later worked as an Elder Scam Prevention Outreach specialist in Rochester, N.Y., before moving back to the Mahoning Valley.
Long answers questions during a series of monthly talks on the latest scams, why scammers target seniors and how to protect personal information 1 p.m. fourth Thursday of every month at the Poland Township Government Center, 3339 Dobbins Road, Poland.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.