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Scammers Look for Vulnerability, and Find It in Older People


Similarly, with the grandparent scam, the victim receives a phone call or email from a “grandchild” who has been in an accident or is in trouble with the law and needs money — typically gift cards or cash sent through Western Union.

Another report from the Federal Trade Commission noted that last year, people of all ages reported median individual losses of $2,000 to these sorts of “family and friend impostors.” But for people over 70, the figure was $9,000.

With the employment scam, impostors post fake jobs, usually in sales and telecommunications, for which applicants submit their Social Security numbers and other personal information. “They might actually work for a few months before realizing the whole thing is fraudulent,” Ms. Nofziger said.

Fraud capitalizing on natural disasters is also rampant among older people, who may be barraged with requests to donate or to hand over financial information to fake charities. Many of the supposed charities have names similar to existing ones, or phone numbers with Washington’s 202 area code. Or they might say they are working with the I.R.S. to help victims get tax refunds or file claims.

A flip side of scams feeding on people’s largess are those that offer unexpected windfalls. Eight years ago, Mildred Gedraitis, then in her mid-80s, got a message that she had won a sparkling new Mercedes; all she had to do was pay the taxes on it, and she could drive it home to Rochester. That’s what the nice man on the phone had told her, anyway, and that’s what she informed Jay Bellanca, her nephew.

Mr. Bellanca, now 67, was confused. “I said, ‘This doesn’t sound right,’” he recalled.

It wasn’t right. Instead of a prize, it was the start of a long-term ruse involving wire transfers through Western Union to a man in Jamaica, whom Ms. Gedraitis had never met, only spoken to on the phone.

It was especially puzzling to her family: “She had always been tight with money,” said Mr. Bellanca, a retired engineer in Salem, N.Y.


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