The Investigators

Jan 22, 2014 11:57 PM by Matthew Schwartz

Most common scams targeting seniors

Tucson--Marietta Luce found out last year that a charity she donated to was under investigation for possible mis-use of funds. The 84-year old Tucson resident was devastated.

Fighting back tears, Ms. Luce told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "I guess when you've been brought up with the idea of fairness and honesty, things like that hurt."

Now, a report from the American Association of Retired Persons names charity scams among six common cons against seniors. The other categories cited by AARP: Online dating web sites, home repair, health care, investments and grandparents.

That's the one in which a scammer calls up a grandparent in the middle of the night, pretending to be one of their grandchildren, and says they've been arrested or hospitalized and need money wired to them immediately. The scammers find out the grandparents' names through various public records and other searches.

Nick LaFleur of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona says if you get a call like that, call your grandchild or his or her parents before wiring money.

"Don't let any phone call you get scare you into giving up money or your social security number," LaFleur says. If there's any doubt in your mind it's better to not give the information and call and check it (any phone call from a stranger) out."

Det. Robin Crehan of the Pima County Sheriff's Department Elder Abuse Unit says the grandparents' scam is the most frequent scam locally. Another common con, as the News 4 Tucson Investigators reported last year, is the lottery scam.

Det. Crehan explained, "The person is contacted and advised, ‘you've won, you have the winning lottery ticket, you've won a lottery but we need you to send this much money to this place in order to recoup your winnings.'"

Crehan says Pima County residents lost about $1.5 million in reported scams against people of all ages in 2012. Last year that number was cut almost in half, to about $776,000, thanks mostly to public awareness. But in the coming months, consumer experts warn that con artists will continue to try to confuse older people with phony healthcare offers.

The BBB's LaFleur said, "They might be trying to get money off you, they might be able to get your social security card, and a lot of times they'll try to scare you by telling you you're going to lose your health care."

If you get one of those calls, call your health care provider and insurance company. The bottom line: do research about scams, know how the most common ones work.

Det. Crehan says, "Probably the number one bit of advice I could give is that any time that someone wants personal information, that you don't normally give out, that's a sure sign (of a scam) right there."

Judging by many of the calls and emails to the News 4 Tucson Investigators, a lot of people have trouble believing that you don't get something for nothing. Remember, no legitimate bank, computer software company or other business is going call you for personal information.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at, or call our tip line at (520) 955-4444.


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