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Frank Gray


We all can help seniors avoid being scammed

For years now I've been writing about various scams, and there is no shortage of variations on the way con artists manage to fleece people out of their money.

I wrote about a man who actually paid $25,000 or so because he thought he was going to get the exclusive rights to distribute Marlboro cigarettes in Spain. His money disappeared.

One man cashed a bogus check for a huge amount of money and wired 90 percent of it to someone in France, thinking he was being hired as a consultant. The money he wired away disappeared.

A financial consultant even got scammed once, accepting thousands of dollars in $500 American Express gift checks as payment for rent (Amex doesn't make $500 gift checks) and agreed to wire several hundred dollars to a moving company to have his new tenant's furniture delivered. The money disappeared.

Then there are people who believed they have won huge jackpots and will be paid millions of dollars if they just wire a few thousand dollars to someone to cover taxes or fees. I talked to some banks about how they try to alert potential victims, though they technically have no business asking what their customers plan to do with their money when they make big withdrawals.

Finally, there's the grandma scam, one of the newer and most effective cons. It targets senior citizens who are easily bamboozled when a young person calls, claiming to be a grandson in jail in Canada or Mexico or somewhere else, and begging Grandma to wire $2,500 or $4,500 to bail him out.

If you publicize the scam broadly enough, most people will get wise and not get taken. But there is always someone who hasn't heard the message, and seniors keep getting victimized.

Just last week, the Fort Wayne Police Department put out a warning about the grandma scam and told the story of an 88-year-old woman who got fleeced to the tune of $8,500. The thief who contacted her told her he needed money to get out of trouble and wanted money sent to him with Green Dot cards, which are prepaid credit cards sold in stores.

A lot of people who don't have bank accounts use these prepaid cards.

It's understandable that a retailer in the business of selling these cards doesn't ask a lot of questions about what the customer plans to do with the money being putting on the card. That's none of the retailer's business.

But when an 88-year-old woman comes in and puts $4,500 on a stack of Green Dot cards, doesn't that set off an alarm?

In this particular case, the same woman was later told by this thief that she had to buy an additional $4,000 worth of Green Dot cards, according to police. But she was told to be sure to go to a different store.

So someone at another store sold this 88-year-old woman another stack of Green Dot cards worth $4,000. Once again, how often do 88-year-old women buy $4,000 worth of prepaid credit cards?

The fact is, seniors are easily scammed, and we all have to look out for them.

Frank Gray reflects on his

and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.