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Defrauding others never seems to go out of style

Means and methods are continually changing, but the objective is to somehow defraud.

COVID-19 alone inspired a variety of scams, such as the sale of bogus treatments for the virus, fake charities to help those affected by the pandemic and phony assistance to obtain stimulus payments.

Seniors are being singled out for what some area residents have reported to be phone calls from parties purporting to represent the Social Security Administration or Medicare. A recorded message might say someone used your card number for illegal activity and that you are responsible for what has occurred and threaten legal action if money or personal information — sometimes both — isn’t provided, for example.

“Unfortunately it’s part of life now,” said Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau about such predatory activities.

Seniors are often targeted, he said. Government statistics show it has been a growing trend to separate seniors from their money through this and a variety of other illegal means.

The number of fraud victims 60 and older has more than doubled since 2015: More than 105,000 vs. about 50,000, respectively. In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaints Center found that people older than 60 had lost more than $966 million — that’s more than triple the less than $300 million lost by that age group in 2015.

Local law enforcement will file a report only if someone suffered some sort of loss as a result of such scams. Budreau refers people to the website hosted by the Internet Crime Complaints Center, IC3.gov. The site allows people to report all types of scams and find out about current defrauding schemes.

Prevention, he said, “is really about education.”

The main FBI.gov website also has a section titled “Scams and Safety.” It provides a list of common scams and crimes by what the scam is trying to achieve, not necessarily the script used to carry it out. A government impersonation scam could be a party pretending to be the Social Security Administration or the local police department to obtain personal information and begin stealing money.

Budreau also made this suggestion: Don’t answer the call.

Check the phone number to determine whether it’s someone you know. Spoofed phone numbers can look familiar, but are instead calls to avoid because they are coming from someone out to steal personal information and money.

One local woman reported that she took a phone call that turned out to be an attempt to defraud because the phone number looked familiar, like the number of a local business.

“If it’s important, they’ll leave a message,” Budreau said.

The same goes for emails, texts, Facebook advertisements, television infomercials and even in-person requests that in some way just don’t seem right. Look into it by using a computer or smartphone to determine whether an email or other message is coming from a trustworthy sender or source before responding.

Taking the time to do some research can help you avoid being victimized this way.

“When we’re being scammed, it doesn’t appear to be a scam,” he added. That’s because many of these proposals — or pressure tactics — can “sound somewhat legit.”

Other good information sources about scams and frauds are the AARP and the Oregon Department of Justice Consumer Protection.