Attorney General Maura Healey warns seniors about scams

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Attorney General Maura Healey
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By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office offers several telephone hotlines including one specifically for seniors. Among the recurring concerns addressed are scams, fraud and abuse, noted Attorney General Maura Healey.

“We know from the kinds of calls we receive that senior citizens may be particularly vulnerable to scams, fraud and abuse,” she said. “Our senior population is a growing demographic. It’s important that we have a dedicated hotline to deal with the kinds of issues to which seniors may be subjected.”

A common ploy has become known as the “grandparent scam.” The caller pretends to be or to be with a grandchild who needs money sent by a transfer company due to a problem such as an accident, arrest or kidnapping. The grandparent might be caught off guard if the caller mentions the grandchild’s name, educational institute or vacation destination.

“Because of social media, people can find out personal details about all of us pretty easily,” Healey noted. “They’re then able to trick seniors into believing that their grandchild is in trouble.”

Healey recommends for grandparents to be prepared to verify a caller’s authenticity.

“Ask questions that would be difficult for an imposter to answer correctly,” she suggested. “Don’t ever volunteer information to callers until you’ve really confirmed their identity. Take their number and say that you will call them back, but check with other family members and find out if it’s legitimate.”

Her advice applies to any type of money request via phone.

“If somebody is asking you to send money by phone it’s always a scam,” she warned.

Similarly, everyone is cautioned about callers claiming to be from banks, the government, IRS or Medicare. They typically say there’s a problem with an account and need that person’s social security number to fix it.

“Never give your social security number or information about your bank account by phone,” Healey said. “In the last year there’s been a surge in calls from people pretending to be from the IRS, claiming that people owe back taxes and face penalties, so they want immediate payment. The IRS and other government agencies aren’t going to call and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay. Just hang up the phone.”

Another recent increase is robocalls advertising free medical alert devices. Callers falsely represent products or services that they claim a relative purchased for them. They typically ask for credit card or checking account information to cover a monthly monitoring fee.

“I encourage people to make sure they’ve signed up for the Do Not Call Registry,” Healey said. “The problem is that some of these calls are coming from overseas and people are just outright ignoring the law. We’re certainly going to do everything we can to shut them down. In the meantime, be vigilant and don’t pick up the phone if it’s a number you don’t know – let them leave a message.”

Massachusetts residents can contact the state Do Not Call Registry at 1-866-231-2255 or mass.gov/donotcall. To register for the National Do Not Call Registry, contact 1-888-382-1222, TTY: 1-866-290-4326, or donotcall.gov.

The attorney general’s office published a pamphlet titled “Savvy Seniors: How to Avoid Financial Fraud,” which includes nine tips to prevent elder abuse: “Avoid isolation, stay active and socialize with your family and friends. Monitor your financial transactions closely and confide in people you trust. Keep important legal and financial documents in a safe place. Be aware of telemarketers who pressure you into making an immediate decision. Safeguard your personal information and passwords. Be careful when responding to any solicitation – if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Screen your calls and only answer when you recognize the name/number. Check with a trusted source before sending money or giving out any personal information. Avoid getting on a mailing list and don’t fill out contest entry forms.”

Healey added, “Anyone who thinks they’ve been the victim of a scam or fraud, or has questions, certainly should call our elder hotline and let us know how we can help.”

The elder hotline is 1-888-AG-ELDER (1-888-243-5337), TTY: 617-727-4765. It’s available Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about assistance offered by the attorney general’s office, visit mass.gov/ago.