From Bail Money to Jury Duty—Be On the Lookout for These Scams

Scammers often target the elderly for several reasons. Older folks tend to be home more and are more apt to answer the phone. They are often more trusting. And they are typically less tech-savvy and can be more easily swayed by “tech speak,” or alarmist calls or e-mails. Not so the case with one senior citizen, as reported by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“Lou,” 87, received a call from a young man who called him “Grandpa” and said he had been arrested for drunk driving and needed bail money. He asked Lou to call his “lawyer” who would explain everything, and to also, “Please don’t tell my mom!” Suspicious, Lou played along.

What Lou found, was that the caller used some common tricks we all should be on the lookout for, regardless of age.

Tricks of the trade

First, they tested the waters to see how much money they could get. At first, bail was $7,000, but when Lou said he could only pay half of that, the fake lawyer said he could get the bail reduced. Lou was asked to either wire the money or get a prepaid card and give them the numbers on the card.

They also tried to keep Lou from talking to anyone, even telling him he could be arrested if he spoke about it. This is typical with scams; they want you to feel urgency, even fear, so that you will act fast, without thinking too much or getting input from others.

They used information Lou gave them to make their story seem legit. The “grandson” said the accident occurred “in the city” and when Lou asked if it was in Washington, D.C., the scammer said, “Yes, in D.C.” Scammers can also get information prior to the call or e-mail from Facebook and other social networking sites, or by hacking into e-mail accounts.

Eventually, Lou hung up on the scammers and contacted his daughter, a consumer lawyer, who was very familiar with this scam: someone pretends to be a friend or family member in need of money for bail, a medical emergency, or other trouble. It turns out Lou’s real grandson was just fine.

Jury duty scam
Another common scam that people of all ages are still falling for—and one that has been around for over a decade—involves serving for jury duty. Fraudsters especially like this scam because they not only get quick money, but also enough personal information for identity theft. Another version of this scam is that the person ignored a court order to appear as a defendant, they are in contempt of court, and now have a federal warrant out for their arrest.

The scammers always claim to be members of law enforcement, i.e., the local police, sheriff’s department or U.S. Marshals Service.

Here’s how it works
You get a phone call, usually after business hours (red flag #1) saying that you are facing immediate arrest because you didn’t report for mandated jury duty. Your caller ID may even display the phone number as coming from a courthouse or law enforcement agency. The scammer even cites names of actual police officers and judges. Your typical response? “What?? I never received a jury duty summons!”

Then you’re told, to avoid arrest, you can pay a fine, usually in the form of a prepaid debit or gift card. And, to verify he’s called the correct person, the scammer will need to “confirm your identity” by asking for your name, birthdate, Social Security number, etc. Sometimes you will even be asked to come down to the sheriff’s office to pay the fine, but BEFORE you go, they will need the numbers on your prepaid card to “verify that you actually did what they told you to do.”

If you get a call like this, don’t give out any personal information, hang up, and by all means, don’t run out and buy an iTunes gift card.

Authentic jury duty notifications, including “no show” summonses, are almost always sent by mail. If you are called, it would typically be because a jury duty summons may have been returned to sender as undeliverable. A legitimate court employee will never ask for payments, gift cards or personal information like your Social Security or driver’s license number. Also, police officials would never call warning of an impending arrest, or about missing jury duty. If you do receive a letter in the mail that you have missed jury duty, verify it with a call to the court clerk’s office.

Don’t share login credentials
There is a new trend where people are scammed into sharing credentials like logins and passwords for their online banking and bill payment with the promise of an incoming wire transfer. In reality, once you provide that information, the scammers now have access to your accounts and can issue checks or wire money to themselves.

To get your login information, scammers may contact you by phone, e-mail, websites, pop-up ads, or social media sites. Though the scams differ, the objective is to either convince the targets to send money or allow access to your financial accounts.

To protect yourself, never give out your username, password or PIN.  Be wary of “get-rich quick” schemes asking you to wire money; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Never send money to anyone you do not know or a company you cannot verify as legitimate. Be suspicious if someone requests your account information or help with a financial transaction, like cashing a check or transferring money for them.

Knowledge is power
Ultimately, with any type of fraud, the best defense is a good offense. Arm yourself with knowledge about common scams and the tricks fraudsters use. Trust your gut; if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. If you get a suspicious phone call or e-mail, hang up or delete immediately. And tell others your story. By talking about a scam, you may help someone else avoid it.

Check out more scams and how to protect yourself on the FTC’s website.

Tower Won’t Ask for Your Personal Information
(we already have it)

Beware of calls or emails that may claim to be from Tower asking for your account number, credit/debit card numbers, Social Security number, username or password. Typically, these calls/e-mails will claim that you have to respond quickly or your account/cards will be closed or blocked.

Please remember that Tower will never call or e-mail you requesting sensitive personal or financial information. If you receive such a call, hang up—or in the case of an e-mail, delete it and do not open any attachments or click on links—and let us know.

References: AARP, FTC, WTOP