“My father hasn’t willingly answered the phone at his house in 20 years,” said T.J. Hatter, Long Island director of intergovernmental affairs. “Ever since he got an answering machine, he always says that it’s never someone he wants to talk to and that if someone wants to ruin his day, he’ll make them work for it.”
Hatter, who led the discussion on stopping scam artists at a forum at the Malverne Public Library on Nov. 9, said that after working for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for the past three years, he realized his father was right.
“Your phone should be a one-way street of communication,” Hatter told a crowd of 40 or so residents. “This means that if you don’t recognize the phone number as a family member or friend, don’t answer it.”
Victims of phone and internet scammers lose nearly $3 billion each year, according to the Schneiderman’s office. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who hosted the forum, said that the number of these incidents has grown steadily in recent years due to the variety of tactics that scammers use to target seniors.
“I probably get three to four different calls a day on my own phone from people trying to get me to buy [a] vacation or get insurance,” Kaminsky said. “If they’re targeting me, they’re certainly going to target people that are much more vulnerable.”
He said that scammers use routing technology to make the number that appears on your caller ID look local, giving senior citizens the impression that this might be a familiar number.
Other recurring scams included claims of discounted repair services, demands to send money immediately to the IRS, and assertions that a family member is in trouble. In each scenario, Kaminsky said, scammers ask people to send money right away, or else they will miss out on the offer or the situation could get worse.
“Scammers give victims a small sense of emergency,” he said. “I think we need a muscular response to this, both nationally and on the state level.”
Maureen Connolly, a resident who attended, said senior citizens aren’t the only ones who are being targeted.
“Young adults, especially those who use the internet,” Connolly said, “are also victims of scams.”
She said that her granddaughter clicked on a pop-up message in an email, which released a virus. “My son-in-law was afraid that her infected computer would feed into his computer,” Connolly said. “He’s a physician, and he had medical records on his computer, so he was really nervous.”
Hatter added that scam artists prey on potential victims through kindness, fear or intimidation. He said that raising awareness on this issue is the best way to stop scammers.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “But we’re hoping that this Malverne crowd will share our presentation today so that they save people from getting scammed in the future.”