Senior citizens frequent targets of scammers

Staff Reports

Senior citizens lose $36.5 billion a year to scams, according to a 2015 True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse.

Nila Howard of Columbus, who was on the receiving end of a scam attempt last week, wanted to make sure she wasn’t the next victim.

Howard said she received a call Nov. 9 that showed up on her caller ID as “private.”

“I thought it could have been a family member calling me,” Howard said, so she answered the call.

“Grandma?” a man’s voice asked.

“I said ‘Yes,’” Howard replied.

The caller claimed to be in Miami, Florida, with a friend whose mother had died of cancer — and he was supporting that friend through an emotionally difficult time.

“I knew it was a scam from the beginning because our grandchildren do not call us. They text. Secondly, our children are the type that always keep us informed on what our grandchildren are doing,” Howard said. “I played along because I wanted to find out how they conduct these scams.”

The story then shifted to the boys being at a Miami hospital helping a pregnant woman whose boyfriend had planted drugs in their car.

“We got arrested, and you know we would never do drugs,” Howard quoted the caller as saying. “We’re at the police station. We got one phone call that we could make, and I made it to you.”

Howard said she knew the next request would be for money, and she was right.

“If you’re in trouble, you really need to call your dad,” Howard said she told the caller.

That wasn’t the answer he was looking for, and then asked to talk with “his grandpa,” Howard said.

She replied that she wanted to talk with the sergeant on duty there. If he would provide the phone number to the police station, “I will give this to your father to get this straightened out,” Howard said.

When that didn’t satisfy the caller, about five minutes into the conversation, Howard concluded: “I’m tired of this and don’t appreciate this scam.”

The caller hung up.

Notifying police

Howard said she did end up calling the police department — not one in Miami, but in her hometown of Columbus to report the scam attempt.

Any attempt to defraud someone is a crime, said Lt. Matt Harris, spokesman for the Columbus Police Department.

But getting enough evidence to track the suspect down and prosecute a case can be difficult, he said.

Some of the phone calls are international, beyond the jurisdiction of local police, Harris said.

Home-construction scams — to do roofing or sealing driveways during warm-weather months for example — are easier for local police to investigate because they are occurring in the community, he said.

“A lot of times it’s the elderly where their focus is on. They tend to be more trusting,” Harris said.

Scams targeting older residents are one of the six most popular attempts at financial exploitation, said Candice Rickard, chief risk officer for Old National Bank, which created a free course that outlines how senior citizens can detect, protect themselves against and report financial exploitation attempts.

The most popular scams aimed at seniors are as follows, Rickard said:

Common scams: Grandparent, Sweetheart, Advanced Fee/Lottery, Work from Home, Service Scams.

Social engineering: Leveraging human interaction online to learn more about the victim.

Spoofed emails: Fraudulent emails that appear to be from the victim’s actual account.

Phishing: Sending an email falsely claiming to be a legitimate business in an attempt to dupe the victim into divulging personal, sensitive information.

Pop-ups: These appear on the victim’s computer enticing them to click and download a “fix.” Instead, malware is added to the computer.

Friendly fraud: When someone in a position of trust utilizes that relationship to commit fraud. This type of fraud is sometimes referred to as trust abuse.

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Here are some fraud prevention and security tips for all audiences provided by Old National Bank during International Fraud Awareness Week, which wraps up today.

Protect your device

  • Keep your phone or tablet operating system, software and apps up to date
  • Set up a password and lock your device when not in use
  • Do not install or run any app or program on your device unless it is from a trusted source

Protect your access

  • Use a personal firewall
  • Set automatic updates
  • Install anti-virus software that detects and blocks malware
  • Use a trusted computer
  • Avoid unsecured wireless networks
  • Don’t use the same IDs or passwords for multiple systems

Protect your information

  • Always log out when finished with online and mobile banking
  • Never store personal or financial information, including user IDs and passwords, on your device or computer
  • Don’t click on links or attachments to unsolicited email
  • Monitor your personal accounts and financial statements regularly for unexplained activity
  • Don’t confirm or provide personal information in response to an email or text
  • Don’t write your PIN on your card or keep anywhere in your wallet or purse
  • Check your credit reports – for free – every year

For more information about increasing awareness and reducing the risk of fraud during International Fraud Awareness Week, visit

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Consumer protection information is available online through the Office of the Indiana Attorney General. Visit

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Columbus residents who think they have been targeted by scam artists can contact the Columbus Police Department at 812-376-2600. After listening to the information, officers will determine whether local law enforcement can be of assistance, spokesman Lt. Matt Harris said.