CORTLANDT, N.Y. – New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman visited Cortlandt Town Hall on Wednesday morning, presenting a "Smart Seniors" initiative to combat scams targeting the elderly, during a seniors forum.
Elder abuse and fraud costs its victims almost $3 billion per year, Schneiderman said. The Smart Seniors program touches on Medicaid fraud, home improvement scams, phishing, sweepstakes and even physical abuse.
"There's a serious issue of underreporting," Schneiderman said. For every one instance of elder abuse that's reported, he said, 24 go unreported. He's hoping the education initiative will combat the stigma many victimized seniors feel when reporting such incidents, and prevent other seniors from being victimized.
"This is the most expansive effort we've ever taken to educate seniors proactively," he said.
Cortlandt seniors say they're not strangers to the many tactics used by scammers.
"I get an awful lot of stuff in the mail, and phone calls, and you don't know who to trust," said Christina Grizzaffi, 68, a member of the Peekskill Seniors. "My sister recently had a scam on her, identity theft."
Con artists prey on greed, good will and desperation of their victims, says the Smart Seniors program. Many use a "hook" to disarm their victims, and persuade them to act quickly by including a deadline. Protecting personal information can stop a crime of opportunity.
The most common elements in scams stay the same, but new ways to defraud people have emerged with technology. Phishing scams look for individuals to provide personal information over the Internet, usually under the guise of a familiar and trustworthy company. The scam may look like your bank, a website used for shopping or your credit card company. Commonly, the scammer will look for the victim to send a Social Security number, username or password to "reset" an account, says Smart Seniors.
Reputable companies should never ask for usernames, passwords or Social Security numbers via email or to reset an account logon, and requests should not be granted to those calling and seeking the same information.
The "grandparent scam" preys on a victim's fear of a loved one getting into trouble. The scammer calls asking a grandparent to wire money for a car repair, to buy a plane ticket out of a foreign country or to make bail. Sometimes scammers identify themselves as, "your favorite grandson," allowing the relative to supply the name. Other times relatives' names will be gleaned from social media.
Recipients of such calls should ask the caller for the name and contact information of the law enforcement agency, hospital or car repair shop they're dealing with, and verify the story. Do not rely on voice recognition. Before sending money, seniors should speak with their family members to find out if someone really is out of town and needs assistance.
All consumers should get into the habit of shredding personal mail, like credit card offers and bank statements.
The Smart Seniors program comes at a time when the attorney general is expecting crime targeting seniors to rise, as more New York residents over 65 begin using the Internet.
"They're living longer, they're living alone, they're on the Internet more," Schneiderman said. "All this makes them more vulnerable."
Schneiderman said representatives of his office will visit senior centers across New York to help spread the word.