Melissa Smarr, Chief Code Development and Compliance at Fairfax County Government, and Scott Hagerty, Code Enforcement Investigator at Fairfax County Government, provide fraud-fighting suggestions to seniors during the Silver Shield Anti-Scam Presentation held Wednesday, March 7 at the Herndon Senior Center, 873 Grace Street.
Photo by Mercia Hobson.
Every day, con artists swindle senior citizens in Fairfax County, taking their hard-earned savings or stealing their identities. Once duped, seniors may be targeted again. So how and why does this happen and what can be done to prevent a vulnerable segment of our adult population from being victimized?
According to Fairfax County Department of Family Services – Older Adults, Fairfax County is home to thousands of retirees with pensions and retirement savings. Many seniors also have time on their hands. Even though the multi-generational American family is staging a comeback according to Pew Research Center, there remains a need for socialization.
Some seniors tend to be more willing to invite door-to-door salespeople into their homes and to talk at length on the phone with solicitors they do not know. Seniors can then fall prey to fake sales schemes and the friendly telemarketer on the phone can become relentless and scary.
TO STRIKE BACK against fraud and protect older adults by sharing critical information to help them avoid being scammed, Fairfax County Government hosted a presentation of its Silver Shield Anti-Scamming Program on Wednesday, March 7 at the Herndon Senior Center, 873 Grace Street.
On hand at the meeting was Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville). "We are excited about this program and how important it is to have a program like this," Foust said. “Recently, I received a message on my phone to go to a website and deal with a lawsuit against me. False. This program will give you the tools to deal with shady characters like this."
Fairfax County's Code Enforcement Investigator, Scott Hagerty and Melissa Smarr, Chief Code Development and Compliance stood at the microphone armed with possible suggestions created for the Silver Shield Anti-Scamming Program.
The duo shared with the crowd of nearly 75 seniors how best to think through multiple scenarios such as a phone call that turns frightening or threatening, someone at the door, or what to do if they have released personal information.
Hagerty and Smarr suggested to the seniors to just hang up the phone or ask for the caller's information and call back after they check them out.
They suggested that if someone comes to the door and the senior does not know the person, not to answer it. If they do answer the door and the person “has a deal,” ask that person for copies of their solicitor and contractor's licenses.
If the senior thinks he or she may have given someone an opening into their personal information, Hagerty and Smarr recommended they notify the bank, credit card, or other company to inform them of the breach and to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
According to AARP and reiterated by Hagerty and Smarr, false lottery scams and the new grandparent ruses bait the elderly. "Gramma, I'm in jail, help! Don't tell Mom and Dad. Please send a $1000 to this account, and I can get out,” are on the rise as scammers pose as a family member in need.
While these stratagems pull at the heartstrings of grandparents trying to help their families, other dubious schemes in the form of letters, investment schemes, and prescription discount programs procure an older adult's personal and private information and threaten older people's retirement income as fraudsters prey upon the vulnerable population. If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
CON ARTISTS target older citizens because they realize seniors may be less likely to report a fraud. Seniors may be embarrassed about being exploited or afraid of being considered incompetent by their loved ones and then losing control of their finances. Also, an extended period may occur before the realization of the fraud sets in, making it difficult for seniors to recall accurate investigative details.
Ruth Junkins, Executive Director, Herndon Senior Center said: “The information Silver Shield brings to Herndon Senior Center is so important. No one ever wants to feel taken advantage of. Silver Shield gives us the knowledge, tools, and gumption we need not to be scammed.”