On Thursday afternoon, March 28, more than 50 local residents gathered at the Austintown Senior Center for a special seminar of elder fraud. A panel of experts was assembled to present the latest scams and how people can protect themselves.
The event was put together through the efforts of the Senior Center and the Mahoning County Sheriff's Senior Services Division under the direction of Kay Lavelle, which is not located at the center. Lavelle said senior citizens are often the focal point for scams.
Among panelists participating were Mani James and Yolanda Robinson from the Ohio Attorney General's office; Lindsay Blair from Treasurer Josh Mandel's office; Jim Mattes from the Social Security Administration; Victor Russel from Apprisen, a credit counseling service; Melissa Ames from the Better Business Bureau; Ray Foeller from the Ohio Consumer's Council; and Alex Bilchak from the Ohio Division of Financial Institutions.
Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Mary Bowald of Canfield, poses with Mani James from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office during last Thursday’s seminar on elder fraud. Mary was brave enough to tell her story in hopes of helping others be more aware of scams that are geared at taking people’s money.
Bilchak mentioned a recent scam that dealt a harsh financial blow to one local man. He said a fellow from Trumbull County had placed a piano on Craigslist and had an inquiry from Missouri. He said the Missouri person had offered $10,000 for the piano and the local fellow accepted. In discussing the shipping, the out-of-state party offered to write the check to cover the shipping and the overpayment could be sent back. The actual shipping charges were $1,000 and the Missouri fellow wrote the check for $15,000. The check was deposited in the local bank and a check for $4,000 and the piano were sent to Missouri.
After a week went by, the bank informed the local man that the $15,000 check was no good.
"This guy was out the $4,000 and the piano," Bilchak said, "and the bank wants their money back."
It was a typical scam to get a person to write a check or send money. Bilchak and others on the panel agreed that many scammers target seniors and try to get them to send money for all manner of situations. It happened to one local woman who was brave enough to tell her story and help others be aware of the scam.
Mary Bowald of Canfield, lost close to $10,000 to scammers who were preying on her devotion to family. It all started with one phone call.
"I got a phone call from my grandson who said he was picked up for speeding," Bowald said.
She said the caller, who sounded like her grandson, claimed police found drugs in the car and were going to put him in jail if a bond was not paid. He begged not to let his father know about it. The young caller even handed the phone off to a supposed police officer, who verified everything and said in order to keep the young man's record clean, $2,900 needed to be sent by Western Union to a location in the Caymen Islands that supposedly handled the bonds. After the first payment was wired, the scammers called again and again and kept telling her she would get all the money back after the court date.
"I did this three times," Bowald said.
A fourth time she was contacted by the scammers and was about to again send $2,900 to protect her grandson. She went to Giant Eagle to wire the money, but an employee recognized her and suspected something was not right. The employee got her supervisor who questioned Bowald about sending such a large sum of money. They even contacted the grandson's high school, found him to be in class and was asked about the police stop. He had no idea what was going on. The person who sounded like her grandson was one of the scam artists. Lucky for Bowald, the caring employee helped stop the scam.
"I'll never see that money again," Bowald said.
James, from the Ohio Attorney General's office, said this is a common scam named "The Grandparent Scam." It is meant to target grandparents who are led to believe their grandchildren are in trouble. The scam has also been used on parents and really doesn't have an age barrier.
"It happens to people of all ages," James said. "The trouble is, the scam calls for sending money outside the U.S., which is outside of our jurisdiction."
Among some of the other scams touched on during the seminar were the following:
Getting phone calls stating one is behind on a utility bill. Utility companies don't call customers and demand a payment.
Little postcards saying a person has an annuity with their company. While it looks official, it is just a "phishing" scam to get personal information.
Home improvement scams that demand a large down payment and do shoddy work.
Phone scams about wanting to fix an account or clear up a bad credit rating. They are all looking for information to steal funds from accounts. It was noted that there were 12.6 million victims of identity fraud in 2012 in the United States, according to a survey done by Javelin Strategy and Research.
While those in attendance got a wealth of information, Lavelle said she is far from finished. Besides the entire program airing on Channel 19 in Austintown, Lavelle plans to get video copies made up and get them to people who work with seniors so they will be aware of things to look for. She said if more people would get involved like the employee at Giant Eagle, a lot of seniors could be protected against scams.