Don’t be a ‘Donna’: Stay alert to avoid being scammed

Published 11:37 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

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By Zia Terhune


In June of 2020, my 72-year-old friend Donna lost $34,000 in a ‘sweetheart’ scam in which she met a man through a personal dating site.  

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They communicated for seven months and decided to buy a house together. They were to both put money into the deal. They still had never met, but this person had gained her trust. After she sent the money, his phone was disconnected.  

Donna joined the ranks of lonely elderly women victimized mainly because they have savings and trust people.

Recently, I sat in on a talk in Tryon by an attorney with a local legal service about the growing crime of scams and elder fraud. It was sad to hear about people losing large sums of money, losing their homes and sometimes being forced into bankruptcy.

The FTC reports over $10 billion was lost last year, and it’s really much more because scam victims are frequently embarrassed to discuss the incident with authorities. Most stolen money is never recovered.

Another example of a common scam includes ‘winning a contest or sweepstakes,’ where a victim is told they must send cash to prepay the expenses (like taxes) before receiving the prize.  After sending the money, the victim is frequently told the prize just got larger but more upfront money is needed. This could go on until the victim finally realizes there is no prize and their money is gone.

Other examples of common scams include grandparents receiving an urgent call from someone pretending to be a police officer or government official, stating that the grandchild was picked up for DUI and that if they don’t send $10K immediately, there will be prison time, or someone impersonating a contractor contacting a homeowner about problems like a roof or siding and needing money up front to start the job. The work never gets done.

Other times, a scammer may pose as a ‘millionaire’ who needs help getting a large amount of money into the US, saying that the victim will receive 10% of the funds in exchange for assisting by giving their bank account login information. Or, a victim of a scam may receive an email saying they are in arrears with the IRS, McAfee, Amazon, etc, and must take care of it immediately.

These scammers are usually professionals at this and know how to manipulate people. This is especially common with elderly victims who may be isolated, lonely, trusting of strangers and have money.

Some ways to avoid being scammed are to change your passwords frequently and make them longer, and to set up double authentication with sensitive accounts. In order to log in you have to give a code that has been sent to you by text or email.

Check your credit monthly to avoid identity theft, and purchasing computer security like Norton Antivirus is another good idea. Always be careful what personal information you put on social media, and watch for red flags like someone needing you to pay them immediately.  

Don’t be a Donna. Be alert and don’t assume that it could never happen to you.