State Senator Sue Shink and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel hosted a senior town hall at Mill Creek Middle School on Oct. 3rd
to equip residents with the knowledge to safeguard themselves against scams and fraud.
The event covered a range of topics, including common scams that target seniors, identifying red flags in phone calls, mail, email, and texts, practical strategies to reduce the risk of falling victim to scams, and how to report scams and fraud in Michigan.
AG Nessel opened the evening by asking the audience, “What are the reasons scammers target seniors?”
Among the responses, Nessel pointed out the main reasons scammers go after senior citizens are:
- Most have some amount of money saved as a nest egg.
- Most have low debt with a steady source of income in the form of social security, pension, or investments.
- Seniors tend to be less tech-savvy.
But of all the reasons criminals might target seniors, Nessel stressed one of the biggest reasons is that senior citizens were taught to be more trusting.
“When somebody calls you on the phone, you’re not supposed to hang up on them,” she said. “You weren’t taught to treat people like that. When somebody knocks on your door, you’re supposed to have a conversation with them.”
Nessel presented common ingredients to most scams.
Urgent or secret requests: The caller urges you to keep the call secret.
The Attorney General listed examples of people being called for missed utility payments, and service will be shut off unless it is paid right now. Other examples are calls or texts for suspicious activity on an account or about a family member in an accident.
“It could be any set of circumstances where you need to act, and you need to act right away,” said Nessel. “And why do they create a sense of urgency? So you don’t have time to confirm it.”
“When the emergency calls for you to provide your financial or personal information right away, it’s a scam,” she added.
Her advice is to always take time to verify before responding.
Believable Stories: You receive a request from a “friend,” “family member,” or a friend of a friend/family member.
Nessel used the example, “Somebody calls you, and they’re like, ‘Hey, I’m calling on behalf of your grandson, Kevin. And I know Kevin because we were Dreadnaughts together at Dexter High School. He asked me to call you because he’s been in an accident. And he needs some help.’ And you know, you’re thinking, right, like you really do have a grandson named Kevin. He really did go to Dexter. High. So, I mean, it sounds legit. Right?”
The Attorney General pointed out such personal information is readily available online with the proliferation of social media, where users post their information on their profile. Personal information can be seen and used by anyone anywhere in the world.
“They’ll try to use that to create this believable story,” explained Nessel. “And just remember, when a stranger calls and claims to know things about you, it doesn’t mean they really know you or your family.
“Don’t let them make you feel comfortable because they know that stuff,” she added.
Again, the bottom line is if they ask for personal information or money, assume it’s a scam.
Financial Requests: You receive a request or a demand to update, provide, or confirm your identity or financial information.
Nessel emphasized that the big red flag is always about getting your money or personal information, which can be used to get your money. Don’t give out either. She also cautioned the audience to avoid buying from Facebook ads because many are fake and designed to obtain financial information.
Unusual Payment: You are asked to pay by a wire transfer, cash reload or app, a gift card, or using Bitcoin.
The Attorney General stressed that reputable entities don’t request unconventional means of payment.
“What if you got a call from DTE and somebody tells you to pay your bill in gift cards?” asked Nessel. “Why would a scammer do that? Because it’s a method of payment that can’t be traced.”
The Attorney General also covered the practice of “spoofing,” where scammers use one of your contacts in the caller ID or a familiar area code to get you to answer the call. “Never trust your caller ID, even if it says ‘Chase Bank’ or ‘State of Michigan,’” said Nessel.
Her advice is to answer only if you have contacted them first. If they leave a message (which she said scammers generally try to avoid), you can look up the institution’s number and call back on that.
Michigan’s Attorney General also detailed other scams involving dating, sweepstakes, medical, and disasters. She also touched on the Elder Abuse Task Force, which is working to pass legislation to protect senior citizens.
“We all just want to be treated with respect and dignity no more,” and that’s what these bills would help do and help establish,” she concluded. “For the first time in our lives, we’re going to have really significant protections for seniors and other vulnerable adults and more so than we’ve ever had in the State of Michigan. And I’m really looking forward to it.”
Photos by Doug Marrin