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AG issues alert on ‘impostor’ gift card scams targeting seniors

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued an alert

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued an alert Thursday, April 20, 2017, warning New Yorkers of "impostor scams." Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued an alert Thursday about scammers who use gift cards to commit fraud against consumers, particularly senior citizens.

He said his office had received an uptick in complaints regarding the so-called impostor scams, in which callers convince people they need to pay off an IRS debt or help a relative in trouble by buying gift cards.

Federal Trade Commission statistics show complaints of impostor scams jumped nearly 30 percent in New York last year, to 19,657 from 15,162 in 2015.

“Each year, countless New Yorkers lose thousands of dollars through a variety of constantly evolving financial scams — the latest of which exploits gift cards and targets senior citizens,” Schneiderman said.

His office has partnered with the Retail Council of New York and AARP to educate the public about common scams.

The Internal Revenue Service scam and “The Grandparent scam” are among the most common.

Schneiderman detailed the story of an 82-year-old Albany grandmother who “received a call from someone posing as her distraught granddaughter.”

The “granddaughter” told her she had been the passenger in a car driven by a friend, who was pulled over by the police, and that cocaine was found in the car and she had been arrested. She then asked for money for bail.

Another person, posing as a police sergeant, got on the phone and instructed the consumer to buy several thousand dollars’ worth of gift cards and call him back with the numbers on the back of the cards.

Laura Ehrich, associate state director of AARP New York, said elderly people are often hesitant to report that they’ve been scammed because they feel embarrassed and vulnerable. “But there should be no stigma in reporting you’ve been victimized,” she said. “It helps catch the perpetrator so they don’t victimize somebody else.”

AARP, with some 500,000 members on Long Island, has launched an outreach program to help people avoid being victimized.

Three events are planned for Long Island, at which people can shred personal documents for free: Sunday, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Bayport Bluepoint Library; Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Freeport Recreational Center; and April 30, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the Harborfields Public Library in Greenlawn.

Tips to avoid being a victim

• Never give personal information to a stranger on the phone, even if they claim to be from your bank or credit card company.

• Never wire money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or any other wire service to a stranger.

• Never purchase gift cards for the purpose of providing the gift card numbers to a stranger or someone who claims to be a loved one — they are not a legitimate form of payment.

If you have an elderly parent or loved one:

• Consider seeking their permission to be involved in their finances, including asking credit card companies to alert you when they make an unusually large purchase.

• Assure them that they should check with you before making a payment or purchase, especially if a caller has instructed them not to.

• Encourage them to immediately contact you and/or the police if they get a call like those described here.

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