Shamelessly Scamming Seniors – Forewarned Is Forearmed

scam alert

It used to be when you got old you were called an elder and treated with respect.  Now it just makes you a target for unscrupulous scammers out to make a quick buck at your expense.  No matter if you are ill, as I am; that just makes you more vulnerable.  Using data, including pictures, collected from Facebook and other social media sites, they can sound pretty convincing.  Robocalls are one annoying thing, but I received my first big scam on the morning of July 1.

I received a call with caller ID showing Connecticut Dept. of Corrections at about 10:30 am.  Caller said, “Hi Grandpa…you know who this is?”  Could only be one of three and I said, “Must be Frankie (not his real name).”  I haven’t heard his voice in a long time.  He told me his story, saying he was “so embarrassed, don’t tell anyone.”


Frankie told me he went to wedding in Ohio to be a friend’s best man.  He had a few drinks.  Another driver ran a red light and there was a collision.  Airbag broke Frankie’s nose.  Police came, Frankie breathalyzer tested 1 point over the limit and was arrested.  He was calling from jail, with limited time on the phone.  I would receive a call from Public Defender Robert Johnson soon.  Please help – he has a flight home this afternoon if he gets bailed out.

I got suspicious and started asking a question and he hung up.  I tried calling back and it was Connecticut Dept. of Corrections main number (860-692-7480).  I hung up and the phone rang almost immediately — Robert Johnson from legal aid.  Bail was set at $9000, he said, Frankie was a “flight risk,” but the judge reduced it to $5000, refundable, with a hearing set for July 15.  Johnson said the judge would sentence Frankie to 30 hours of AA meetings in his home state.

I said this is sounding like a scam — he said, call me back and see that it’s the office number, and hung up.  His number is 614-964-4719.  Note: this is the Columbus, Ohio area code, the jail call came from Connecticut.  I waited a few minutes and called back.  Johnson answered directly — no office ID, no operator, and when I said the word scam again he hung up.  I then called the CT Corrections number and verified that my grandson was not in their custody.

I then looked up how to report scammers.  The Federal Trade Commission —

And the Arizona Attorney-General —   Preferably both.   I filed the state complaint as a criminal complaint since it involved fraud.

And, by sheer coincidence, I received an email from Frankie at 9 a.m. that same morning which could not have been sent from jail.

Here are some tips from the FTC website on how to identify scammers:

Family Emergency Scams:  Scammers may pose as relatives or friends, calling or sending messages to urge you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency — like getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill, or needing to leave a foreign country. Their goal is to trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam.

If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money:

  • Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
  • Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine.
  • Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Don’t wire money — or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
  • Report possible fraud at gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Scammers Use Tricks

They impersonate your loved one convincingly:  It’s surprisingly easy for a scam artist to impersonate someone. Social networking sites make it easier than ever to sleuth out personal and family information. Scammers also could hack into the e-mail account of someone you know. To make their story seem legitimate, they may involve another crook who claims to be an authority figure, like a lawyer or police officer.  You may not use social media but family members, especially younger ones, often do, and that’s where the information on you is gleaned.

They play on your emotions:  Scammers are banking on your love and concern to outweigh your skepticism. In one version of this scam, con artists impersonate grandchildren in distress to trick concerned grandparents into sending money. Sometimes, this is called a “Grandparent Scam.”

They swear you to secrecy:  Con artists may insist that you keep their request for money confidential – to keep you from checking out their story and identifying them as imposters. Victims of this scam often don’t realize they’ve been tricked until days later, when they speak to their actual family member or friend who knows nothing about the “emergency.” By then, the money they sent can’t be recovered.

They insist that you wire money right away:  Scammers pressure people into wiring money because it’s like sending cash – once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. Imposters encourage using money transfer services so they can get your money before you realize you’ve been scammed.

Report Scams:  If you believe you’ve responded to a scam, file a complaint with the FTC and your state Attorney General.  Many of these scams are criminal acts.

It is important to report these scammers with as much information as possible.  Questions I thought of after the fact to ferret out the scam might have included, where to send the money, and what’s Frankie’s mother’s maiden name?  It’s always best to be wary, and not react in haste.  It’s hard to imagine people deliberately preying on sick seniors, but that’s the world we live in now.  Forewarned is forearmed.


  1. You see, this is exactly the sort of situation that makes me wonder how venmo and online payment platforms can be more secure than traditional banking when it comes to things like scamming seniors–or anyone really if the story is good enough.

  2. And watch out for the “Pima County Deputy Sheriff/Jury duty” scam, where someone calls pretending to be a deputy while warning you that you missed jury duty and will be arrested unless you pay up immediately. Add that to the scams run by the Tucson City Clowncil, PC Bored of Stupovisors, and TUSD idiots.

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