Murrysville woman urges senior citizens to be vigilant against scams
Once, a man from Syria sent Mary Bach a Facebook message saying he wanted to marry her.
Her husband was not amused.
Scammers have even used her name and phone number to call intended targets.
"I have had my own name and number appear in my caller ID, and it is certainly obvious that I hadn't called myself," Bach told the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Wednesday.
Bach, 73, of Murrysville, was one of five people to testify before the committee about "Stopping Senior Scams."
A longtime consumer advocate, Bach is chairwoman of the AARP Pennsylvania Consumer Issues Task Force and speaks to more than 100 groups a year about fraud awareness. Her video series "Outsmarting the Scammers with Mary Bach" appears on YouTube.
On Wednesday, she said senior citizens are susceptible to frauds and scams because they are unfamiliar with technology, they are believed to have money available and they are thought to be easy targets.
"Older consumers may be less technologically savvy and may not understand how much personal information is available about us in the public and in cyberspace. They are being inundated with phone calls that they cannot control," she told the committee.
Bach said many seniors are "astonished" to learn that they can no longer rely on their phone's caller ID function.
"Scammers are now extensively spoofing their caller IDs to make those they call believe they are calling from a place that fits in with their intended scam, such as the local police, the IRS, a charity, Microsoft and any number of legitimate businesses," she said.
Bach said she herself has received calls involving the tech support scam, the federal grant scam, charity scams, and sweepstakes and lottery scams. Her husband of 51 years, Len, has answered the phone to hear the jury duty scam and the grandparents scam, among others.
IRS scams are particularly common this time of year, she said.
In 2017, the most prevalent scam reported to the committee's fraud hotline was the IRS impersonation scam, in which con artists call, pretending to be IRS representatives, to collect payment of taxes and threaten arrest if payment is not immediately made by phone.
"The bottom line is that all of these scams are about money – the potential victim's money – and that is why education and vigilance are imperative," Bach said. "When people understand, they will hang up the phone."
The committee, whose ranking Democrat is Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, released its 2018 Fraud Book at the hearing. The book outlines the top 10 frauds and scams reported to the committee's fraud hotline in 2017.
"I will continue to ensure that law enforcement has the resources necessary to punish perpetrators. We must also strengthen our work with businesses to make sure they are another line of defense to help prevent assets from ever leaving the hands of unsuspecting victims," Casey said.
Senior citizens who receive a suspicious call should hang up the phone and call the Senate Special Committee on Aging's fraud hotline: 1-855-303-9470.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @shuba_trib.