The famed showman, P.T. Barnum, never actually said the line widely attributed to him: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
A vast legion of scam artists and crooks are out there, though, ready to take advantage of innocent people who don’t recognize red flags.
The scope of such activities was exposed this week with news that FBI agents nabbed a courier who was part of a scheme that nearly cost a Hampshire County woman in her 60s her life savings. In the course of this complex plot, the woman went so far as to withdraw $330,000 from her bank accounts before picking up the scent of criminality — and calling the police.
Nearly a victim, the woman wound up a civic hero by helping local and federal authorities break up the scam. Not everyone is so perceptive or fortunate.
Scammers don’t prey only on the elderly. Their reach goes far beyond urban settings. Beth Bezio sees the dangers from her vantage point as police chief of Ashfield, a town of 1,700 people in Franklin County.
Bezio’s list of scam ploys ranges from well-known tactics (phone scams, robocalls, online purchase scams, phony government impersonators) to sophisticated and less publicized ventures. Bezio says anyone can apply for student loan forgiveness without charge, so any source offering that option for a fee is likely fraudulent.
Some crooks encourage installation of a malicious app. Stolen cell phone numbers can be assigned to a new SIM card that gives a thief access to a victim’s accounts.
Mysterious texts, misuse of QR (quick response) codes, one-time password bots, Zelle scams, fake profiles on dating apps and employment scams — they’re all part of the modern thief’s playbook.
Elderly people seem especially vulnerable. Many are less familiar with the complexity and dangers associated with modern technology. Many are also alone and don’t have voices of reason, and caution, in the room.
Scam artists know no boundaries of age, race, gender or geography. Anyone is a potential victim, and often, become the subjects of heartbreaking stories.
The best advice is to remain wary. If an offer from an unknown source sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t offer any information to these mysterious voices — and call the police.