Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican, says he is concerned about older adults because they are being routinely targeted by scam artists.
“In today’s environment, senior citizens are being targeted like never before,” said Montesano, of Glen Head. “Especially in the age of technology, a lot of people’s information is out there more readily.”
He decided he had to do something. On June 29, Montesano hosted the Senior Scam Prevention Program at the Life Enrichment Center of Oyster Bay. He had arranged for Esther Hughes, the community outreach coordinator for State Department of State, to visit the center to be there to provide seniors strategies to enable them to protect their savings from scammers.
Hughes shared some of the most common scenarios that scam artists use to steal older adults’ money. They included: A call from someone claiming to be from the IRS demanding that outstanding taxes be paid, or an email or phone call indicating that a family member is in trouble and that money is needed to help.
She said that the faster people report the calls and emails to the IRS or the police, the quicker scammers will be caught. “Even if you report a fake name or number from the scammers, that information is important to the IRS because it makes it easier to track them down,” she explained.
Hughes advised seniors to pretend that they are on a first date with the caller. Asking them questions such as their names and where they are from tends to deter scammers. “Once you start asking them these questions, they usually get a little flustered,” she said. “By then, you’ll know who you’re dealing with.”
She urged seniors to ignore phone calls for which they do not recognize the numbers. If it’s important, the caller will leave a message. Scammers don’t.
Pamphlets were provided that included additional information on how to deal with scam artists. One of the state’s goals is to make seniors more “informed consumers” on how to protect themselves, Montesano said, and for them to know what they are entitled to. “Senior citizens are very vulnerable and they have their savings at risk,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we can to put information at their fingertips to help them.”
Montesano — in conjunction with other state and county agencies — holds numerous forums for older adults throughout the year. “They’re the best audience. They’re very interested in our presentations, and they’re always open to learning more,” he said.
Other communities on the North Shore have also dealt with scammers. Glen Cove Lieutenant Detective John Nagle explained that his police department has received numerous reports about scams in the recent years, and that the scams are becoming more sophisticated. Nagle said that a few months ago, one elderly man from another community was told by scammers to purchase a safe and send it to a woman who lives at Regency Assisted Living in Glen Cove. He was told that the safe would be sent back to him filled with money. The scammer then asked the woman to send them money for a contest that she won. The scammers explained to her that every time she sent money, they would give her one of the combination numbers to the safe, which was supposedly filled with $2.1 million. Fortunately, the woman reported this to the police before things escalated.
“These scams evolve and they are up to the imagination of scam artists,” Nagle said. “If you think it’s too good to be true, guess what — it probably is.”
Nagle thinks that senior citizens are more trusting than the younger generation, which is why scammers go after them. He said the police department does its “due diligence” by visiting the Glen Cove Senior Center on a weekly basis to keep seniors informed about recent trends.
One common theme that Nagle has noticed is that scammers will ask for money through a wire transfer, or they will ask for a prepaid credit card to be mailed to them to pay the IRS or for a prize they won. He said that those scenarios should be a “red flag.”
Carol Waldman, executive director of the Glen Cove Senior Center said she knew of a few instances where seniors were scammed last year. “It puts seniors in a very tense and precarious position,” she said. “They had the loss of their money, but they also lost their confidence.”
Waldman said that thanks to the community’s efforts, seniors have become a lot more savvy in recent years. The city created a task force in 2015 composed of different groups in the community such as the police, banks, local stores that handle credit cards. She explained that local pharmacies are trained to question senior citizens if they say they are required to sending money right away. “Scammers know that oftentimes, this is their rainy day money that they need to live and thrive,” she said.
Walden added that when police come to the senior center they reenact situations where a scammer may strike. The city’s police department also shares reports on their Facebook page to keep residents up to date on all scams.
“Education is important for our community,” Nagle said. “I think we’ve done a good job through our media outlets and through our meetings at the senior center to get the information across.”
Walden said the senior center will continue working “vigorously” on educating and teaching seniors how to handle situations involving scams. “I love the fact that through the work we’re doing at the senior center, we’re really getting everyone on board,” she said.