You get a phone call from a person claiming to be from a utility company telling you that you owe a lot of money in delinquent bills and that your service is going to be cut off unless you pay up immediately. The caller instructs you to purchase a gift card from a store for the amount owed and send it to them.
Or you get a call from someone purporting to be an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent informing you that you owe thousands of dollars in back taxes and that you will be arrested if you don’t pay up pronto.
Or the call comes from a person identifying him or herself as a doctor telling you your beloved son/daughter/nephew was in a car accident and is in the hospital in need of money to pay the medical bills.
In all of the cases, you are instructed by the callers to send them money via store gift cards to clear up the debt.
Beware! They’re all scams and police are warning the public not to fall prey.
“People are losing thousands,” Capt. Anthony Longobardi, commanding officer of the 62nd Precinct, told Community Board 11 members at the board’s Jan. 10 meeting.
In one New York City case, an elderly woman gave $100,000 to the crooks. “She lost her life savings,” Longobardi said.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans lost $41 million of their hard-earned money to these types of scams in 2018. That’s a significant increase from 2017, when the total amount of losses was $26 million.
People age 70 and older appear to be the most susceptible, according to the FTC. For folks over 70, the median amount of the loss was $9,000. In other age groups, the median loss was $2,000.
“People fall for it hand over fist,” Police Officer Ed Nogol, the precinct’s newly appointed crime prevention officer, told the community board.
What’s worse, Nogol said, is that once you send cash or a store-bought money card to the scammers, there is no way to get it back. It is lost forever.
Nogol said the best way to protect yourself is to be aware of how the government and public utilities operate.
The first thing to remember, Nogol said, is that the IRS or a utility company like Con Edison is not going to call you on the phone and demand cash.
“No agency is going to ask you to mail cash. There is no one from an agency that will ask for store cards,” he said.
Longobardi confessed that he has received these types of phone calls. “I broke their chops,” he said, adding that he pretended to go along with the scam.
Law enforcement officers and government officials admit that scam artists are clever and are constantly coming up with new ways to separate people from their money.
In some cases, the crooks get someone to pose as a relative of the victim. The “relative” calls the victim and tells the person he or she is in jail or in the hospital in a foreign country and is in need of emergency cash.
“They want you to panic,” Nogol said.
The best thing to do is to stay calm and gather as much information as you can so that you can check out the story, Nogol said. Get the name of the country the relative claims to be in, along with the name of the hospital. The next step is to call the hospital directly. Hospitals can reveal if a person is a patient there without violating confidentiality rules.
This type of scam is often played on senior citizens, according to the FTC.
Thousands of senior citizens across the U.S. have frantically sent cash to far-away places under the belief that a grandson needed it, only to find out later that the relative never made the call and isn’t even in the foreign country.