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Keep an eye out for elder scams

Holidays offer perfect setup for many cons and outright theft

By Jay Gamel

I was standing in line at a large department store on Santa Rosa Ave. a few days ago and witnessed a nervous silver-haired customer trying very hard to buy half a dozen $500 gift cards. The process came to a grinding halt after one card was approved because store policy did not allow more than one gift card at that price. The young cashier did his best to help out; the customer seemed determined to acquire these cards.

My growing impatience (I was third in line on a very busy weekend day) was tempered by my curiosity when an assistant manager was called over to help out. Barely older than the cashier, he tried to work things out with three different credit cards and an offer to write a check. The credit cards were declined in the amounts sought, as was the customer’s check. The customer was eventually led to a back office for some sort of resolution.

I have no idea what that was, but I was left with the strong feeling that this person was being conned out of a lot of money, at least $3,000. At the very least, I believe the two store employees needed to ask more about what was happening. When I finally got to the cash register, the cashier, and then the assistant manager, told me they had no idea that elder scams could involve high-dollar gift certificates.

All I could do was notify management that training programs are available to businesses to help them avoid participating in elder abuse scams.

Scammers favor gift cards

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s website notes that scammers often use gift cards as a way to obtain payment because they are not traceable and no stop-payment can be placed on them.

The Federal Trade Commission released statistics two years ago indicating a 270 percent increase in scammers requesting payment with a gift card. Nearly half of the people who paid scammers with a gift card used iTunes or Google Play. Be cautious of anyone calling you and demanding immediate payment or pressuring you to make payment with a gift card. The scam- mers can sometimes even pose as family members.

The website offers a quick look at dozens of quick-buck scams being foisted on everyone, particularly older people who may be having memory or recall problems who are vulnerable to craftier, well orchestrated attempts to confuse and scare people into reacting and sending money.

While you can’t always step up for every suspicious activity, be aware of sudden pleas and demands for money coming over the phone or email. It never hurts to ask for a call back number and talk about the issue with someone you know and trust.

And don’t be reluctant to tell merchants to be wary of flustered customers who want high-ticket gift cards in a hurry. While some will be legitimate, chances are more than minimal that something else is going on.