Senior citizens favorite targets of scam artists

Scamwatch.gov | Courtesy graphic

The amount lost and number of reports so far in 2019 and the method of threats to life, jail or other that scammers used have caused victims a loss of $1,708,413.

Fraud has cost Americans millions in losses, and scammers aren't backing down.

Fraud is intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain, or to deprive a victim of a legal right. And Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King said older generations are targeted most of the time.

"The first and foremost that we see most in scams is that you never have to pay money to win money. If you get a phone call or a letter that says you've won the lottery, all you have to do is send us $700 and we will send you your money - you never pay money to win money," said King.

He said nobody should ever ever make a transaction or payment on the first phone call. These frauds or scams are effective because people tend to panic. An example would be if the IRS calls and said if a payment isn't made immediately, the person will be arrested.

King also said scammers will call and act like they are the person's relative who is in jail or other trouble, and he or she needs money to get out.

"They pull on people's heartstrings and they scare them into paying right now. Always collect yourself and make some phone calls to other people besides them to verify who you're being called by is real," said King.

According to scamwatch.gov, nearly $58,121,800 has been lost so far in 2019 due to fraud, and most were investment scams. The numbers suggest phishing and threats to life, arrest or others are the top categories for threats. Data also suggest scammers contact their victims most of the time by phone or email.

"Many of your federal agencies will not call you and accept payment over the phone; the IRS will only mail," said King.

The latest scam law enforcement is seeing has the miscreant calling and telling the victim he has a jury duty warrant and the person must pay it immediately. King said they tell victims they must pay in gift cards and send them to Walmart or any store with the cards. Money is loaded on the cards and scammers get those numbers. They will have the money swiped off the card within 30 minutes.

"They tell you that you can either come to the sheriff's office or 'you can just do this' and 'we prefer you do that,' so we don't get busy at the office. Now that person is out hundreds of thousands of dollars," said King.

So far, the amount lost due to threats to life or arrest in 2019 is $1,708,413, with 10,214 reports.

Mail fraud is a common scheme. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, high-risk mail includes notices of prizes, sweepstakes winnings, vacations and other valuable offers. In 2019, there have been 1,909 reports of mail fraud with a loss of $1,661,668.

King said people need to trust their gut, and when something sounds too good to be true, most of the time, it is.

AT&T has an automatic phone fraud protection service and will notify customers if a call could possibly be fraud. "Spam risk" or "AT&T Alert: Fraud Risk" will be the caller ID when a someone is receiving a fraudulent call. There are 41,404 reports of phone fraud so far in 201,9 with a loss of $13,958,307.

Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said anyone who needs verification with potential scammers can always give his office a call.

"Best thing I can say is to tell people there are always ways they can verify the legitimacy of the caller and to do so before you give them any personal information or money. Or call us and we will help verify," said Chennault.

The Better Business Bureau can help verify who is calling, or even just Googling can save a potential scam victim thousands of dollars.

Last year, there were 177,517 reports of fraud, with $107,001,471 lost, and $21,466,193 came from victims 65 and older.