Alonzo Weston

Tis’ the season to watch out for scammers. Well it’s any season really, but scammers like to prey on the elderly during the holiday season.

Perhaps the saddest story I’ve reported about scams some years back was when I interviewed a Midtown elderly couple who were in their 80s.

Kids’ pictures hanging on the wall inside their small home showed they were loving grandparents. The sweet grandmotherly smell of baking cookies hit you as soon as you entered their house. The furniture and what-nots in their quaint little home looked right out of a 1960s Sears catalog. Even their TV was not a new flat-screen model but one with tubes and a grainy, staticky picture.

As testament to their age and frailty, what seemed like hundreds of prescription bottles covered the dining room table — her medicines on one side and his on the other.

How could anyone hurt these people? Maybe as part of their sentencing when arrested, scammers should be forced to visit a home like this to see who they’re actually hurting.

Their story is sadly typical but no less heartbreaking.

The husband suffered from dementia, so the wife answered all phone calls. But one week she had to leave town to go visit sick relatives or something and left her husband home alone. That was when the scammers struck. A peachy opportunity for doing evil.

The scammers talked the old man out of $5,000 of their savings. Savings they never recovered.

I’m constantly watching over my mother, who is also in her 80s, against scammers. I tell her don’t talk to them and hang up immediately.

They are crafty and know how to work every situation. I’ve been fooled by scammers a couple of times, but fortunately I caught on before it was too late.

One popular scam is to say they are calling from Social Security and your benefits will be cut off if you don’t go to Penney’s department store and buy a few thousand dollars worth of gift vouchers. Someone would meet you in the parking lot to receive them. They sounded so convincing I drove to Penney’s. Me, a so-called educated reporter. I called my wife and she saved me from making a foolish mistake. I even visited the police department to report the incident and they warned me it was a scam.

The Social Security scam is the most popular one among crooks. They can even spoof the actual Social Security office phone number to fool potential victims.

Then there is the “grandparents scam” where the call an older adult gets is from someone pretending to be a grandchild involved in an accident or legal trouble who needs someone to send money immediately.

The Federal Trade Commission reported that instead of using gift cards or wire transfers, many seniors were sending cash to these crooks. This scam resulted in a median individual loss of $9,000.

The scam approaches are plenty.

There are internet scams, sweepstakes and lottery scams, investment schemes, counterfeit prescription drugs and funeral and cemetery scams, just to name a few.

The national Council on Aging suggests those who have been a victim of a scam call the local police, your bank and adult protective services in your area. Resources can be found through the government-sponsored national resource line at 1-800-677-1116.

Be safe, watch out for scammers and have a Merry Christmas.

Alonzo Weston can be reached at alonzo.weston@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.