FLUSHING — As internet and phone scams become increasingly sophisticated, the Flushing Area Senior Center (FASC) is hoping to keep its members educated on ways to protect themselves and their personal information.
Last Friday, the senior center hosted a fraud prevention presentation given by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who shared information about prevalent scams and how the state is working to protect seniors from falling prey to fraud and abuse.
Nessel told audience members to watch out for common cons like the “Consumers Energy” scam, in which scammers will pose as representatives from Consumers Energy and tell a homeowner that their power is about to be shut off unless they pay over the phone right away and give out their credit card and/or bank account information.
“Scammers often want information so they can steal your identity to take out a loan or to buy a car or house in your name,” she said. “If there’s a sense of urgency to it, it’s likely a scam.”
In addition to fraud cases, Nessel said that her department is handling an increasing number of elder abuse cases where court assigned guardians are taking advantage of senior citizen wards. She said that the state’s Elder Abuse Task Force, which was formed in tandem with the Michigan Supreme Court, is evaluating laws pertaining to legal guardianship and supplying law enforcement with training to identify elder abuse cases.
Nessel also referenced the recently passed Financial Exploitation Prevention Act, a Michigan law that requires bank employees to pay close attention to accounts owned by senior citizens and monitor them for suspicious activity.
“Let’s say there’s a $75,000 wire transfer that, out of nowhere, goes out of your account,” Nessel said. “Once that money is gone, we can try to find out who took advantage of you and try our hardest to get your money back and indemnify you, but the best thing that can happen is that you never lose that money in the first place. When there are those kinds of transactions, the bank or credit union has to notify law enforcement, adult protective services and verify the legitimacy of the transaction (before it can go through).”
Sgt. Jill Macey with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department also shared tips on how senior citizens can avoid becoming victims of fraud. She instructed seniors to exercise caution if they receive a robocall or a suspicious text message or email, particularly if it’s from a scammer posing as a legitimate company.
“Scammers capitalize on putting you into a panic mode and reaction situation, creating a scenario where you feel that the only thing you can do is act,” she said. “If they get you on the phone, pause and take a moment to assess what these individuals are telling you to do.”
Macey said that some scammers also send fake invoices through texts and emails in hopes of getting victims to send them money for something they never purchased. More commonly, scammers will send fake links through texts or social media and trick victims into clicking on them, in order to gain access to their phones and computers.
“Technology is at (a scammer’s) beck and call,” said Macey. “They have the ability…to pose as charities and companies you think are legit, when in fact they’re fraudulent. Don’t call numbers that scammers give you or follow their links. Instead, call the real organizations and companies and do follow-ups.”
Nessel encouraged seniors to not be ashamed of asking family members and friends for help if they’ve been scammed or have been contacted by a scammer. She also urged them to contact the Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement to report fraud.
“If you find yourself having fallen victim to a scam, please report it,” she said. “Remember, there is always time— no matter what the circumstance is—to contact our department and tell us what type of call or message you received.”
For more information on reporting an incident of fraud or elder abuse to the Attorney General’s Office, visit Michigan.gov/ag. The Genesee County Sheriff’s 24/7 Elder Abuse hotline can also be reached at 810-257-3422.