How to protect yourself from scams

Saranac Lake Police Department Chief Darin Perrotte speaks to a crowd at the Saranac Lake Adult Center about financial scams on Thursday afternoon. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

SARANAC LAKE — Saranac Lake Police Department Chief Darin Perrotte on Thursday gave a talk about financial scams at the Saranac Lake Adult Center. During the presentation, he urged attendees to be skeptical of any unverifiable mail, calls and texts and outlined the ways in which senior citizens are often more vulnerable to scams.

“(Scams) can be really, really expensive and once they get you on the hook … they’re going to keep you on that hook,” Perrotte said.

He said the best way to counteract scams is to always be hesitant and inquisitive — don’t let a scammer give you a false sense of urgency, and know who your local representatives and agents are for common scam targets like insurance.

“There is nothing really that’s so earth-shattering that it’s got to happen right that second,” he said. “They may try to encourage you, ‘Well, listen, your insurance is going to be canceled at 2:59 p.m. if you don’t pay it.’ Well, I’m sure if it’s canceled my agent will get it back on at 3:01 p.m. So, I’ll call my agent.”

There are a number of “checks and balances” a person can use to verify they’re talking to someone legitimate, Perrotte said. If the police department or insurance company calls, for example, Perrotte recommended asking to call them back and then looking up and dialing the number yourself. When dealing with insurance companies and banks, you can also ask them to verify information they should have on file, such as which year you became a customer with the company. Conversely, if a company calls and asks for information that they should already have on file, such as a home address or phone number, it’s a red flag that they may be scammers.

Saranac Lake Police Department Chief Darin Perrotte speaks to a crowd at the Saranac Lake Adult Center about financial scams on Thursday afternoon. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

Above all, it’s important to protect your Social Security number, Perrotte said. While home addresses and phone numbers are easily searchable online, SSNs are private and unique identifiers that could give scammers access to a host of personal accounts.

Senior citizens are targeted for a variety of reasons, according to Perrotte. Older adults are well-established, typically with some sort of accumulated income and assets like a home. This makes them better targets for scammers than young adults with few assets, Perrotte said. They’re also more likely to be trusting, polite and isolated.

“If you’re sitting there lonely and isolated and you get a phone call or a text message, sometimes, quite frankly, you don’t care who it is if someone’s talking to you, and that can make us vulnerable,” Perrotte said.

He also emphasized that important conversations with law enforcement, insurance companies and banks will almost never happen via text message. Texts requesting payments or gift cards are almost always a red flag for scams.

Perrotte said older adults are often exploited or scammed by people they know — family members, caregivers, neighbors — rather than strangers. In these instances, they may be reluctant to report they’ve been exploited by someone they care about. On the other hand, some senior citizens fail to report financial exploitation out of fear of retaliation from the scammer, not out of care for them. Recently widowed senior citizens may be unfamiliar with managing household finances and lose track of funds more easily, leaving them vulnerable to scams, while other older adults may experience diminishing cognitive abilities that make them easy targets.

There is a plethora of circumstances in which a person can be scammed, Perrotte said, including when a loved one is given power of attorney, asks for investment or becomes a caregiver.

“Unfortunately, this person that we trusted that we thought could handle our affairs and make decisions for us, they start exploiting that,” he said.

Another common scam that plays upon senior citizens’ emotions are called grandparent and imposter scams — that’s when somebody may call a senior citizen posing as their grandchild or a law enforcement officer and claim their grandchild has been jailed. The scammer will then urgently request bail or fine money, relying on the senior citizen’s love for their grandchild to get funds quickly. Perrotte said there are a few red flags to look out for with these particular scams.

“Very few people are held anymore with new bail reform laws,” he said. “They’re not going to be paying a fine for six months down the road, and if they’re saying ‘I need bail money,’ (you should ask) ‘OK, what police department are you at? I’ll call that police department and make arrangements directly with them.'”

Similarly, tax and debt collection scams “play on our tendency to want to be good citizens,” Perrotte said, and romance scams often target lonely or widowed senior citizens. Lottery and sweepstakes scams are usually too good to be true, and Perrotte said that you should never believe that you won a lottery or sweepstakes that you never entered.

Above all, Perrotte encouraged attendees of his presentation to put aside their fears and ask trusted people for help when they need it.

“It’s really, really important to question these things. If you’re not sure, ask a loved one. Ask an official. Go down to the police station, go to the senior center here. Talk to someone,” he said.


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