When Covenant Shores resident Ann-Mari got a distressing call from her granddaughter, who said she was stuck in a foreign country and needed money quickly, something set off alarm bells in her head.
She had called Ann-Mari “grandma” when she answered the phone, but Ann-Mari’s grandchildren use the Norwegian nickname for grandmother: “bestemor” or “mormor.” That’s when she realized it was a scam.
Ann-Mari was one of many who shared their stories at a crime prevention information session Thursday on the Covenant Shores campus, hosted by Cpl. David Canter of the Mercer Island Police Department.
Imposter scams have overtaken identity theft as the nation’s top consumer fraud, and seniors, or as Canter called them, “experienced individuals,” are often targeted. Those over 60 account for about 37 percent of fraud victims.
Canter explained several different types of phone scams, including the IRS scam that is popular this time of year, and how they can be spotted.
As one resident said, seniors grew up in a time when it was important to answer the phone, and they are generally polite and trusting. Police suggest they don’t answer the door, phone or respond to email from people they don’t know. Another good rule of thumb is never to give out personal information over the phone or Internet unless you were the one to make the call, or initiate the contact.
Canter advised the event attendees to monitor their mail and bank activity. One resident, Louise, said that her credit card statement didn’t arrive one month, and found out that a fraudster had changed her mailing address. She called the Bellevue Police Department, and they suggested she set up a code word with her bank.
Other popular cons include the tech support scam, online romance scam and Medicare fraud. Covenant Shores Resident Life Director Roxanne Helleren said she has received phone calls from scammers as well.
“It really catches you off guard, and they know all the right things to say to get you to fall for it,” she said.
Mercer Island police still see senior scams as one of the top types of fraud in Mercer Island, and continue to receive calls from banks concerned that seniors have fallen victim to scam artists. Canter said that a good rule of thumb is that a legitimate source will never call you asking for money to be wired or mailed. They also won’t mind if you ask to hang up and call back later, while fraudsters will try to keep you on the line until they have your money.
“If the IRS is calling you and saying you owe back taxes, hang up and call the IRS yourself, or Microsoft or Best Buy or whatever it is,” Canter said.
The MIPD uses workshops like these and other programs, including neighborhood watch, crime mapping and Paws on Patrol, to be proactive about policing. Other organizations in the community, including banks and postal services, are also looking out for seniors.
“Our job is to help prevent crime from occurring, so anything we can do to educate people helps us reach our ultimate goal,” Canter said.
Canter also gave tips on how to prevent property crimes like burglaries and car prowls, including locking doors and windows, installing exterior lighting and surveillance cameras or parking in well-lit areas, removing valuables when leaving a vehicle unattended and calling the police right away to report suspicious activity.
For more, see www.mercergov.org/CrimePrevention.