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Summerfield resident laments scams that hit vulnerable seniors particularly hard

Aging elephants are an easy target, and illegal poachers continue to go after their coveted ivory tusks. Aging seniors are also a prime target for poachers, who are increasingly after your precious money.

When the Tigard police personnel held meetings on senior scams in Summerfield and King City, they drew full houses. As reported by Editor Barbara Sherman in the March Regal Courier (about the Summerfield session), many if not most attending had stories to tell of being victims.

Some years ago, senior scams were more harmless and visible.

A friend of mine at that time seemed to be a perpetual victim. He'd drive into a parking lot to get some groceries, and a stranger would approach his car and say it looked like it needed a little repair on the side. Or another stranger would stop by and tell him his roof was in bad shape and he'd give him a good deal to repair it. And then, my friend signed up for a work-at-home program, with "guaranteed income… " Just send in a check, and we will get learning materials to you. And yes, he did fall for all of these scams. But who knew that those were the good old days?

Fast forward to today, and seniors are in a world of hurt. Now it is not your local "poacher" at the parking lot nearby but a world-wide effort to clean out your bankroll and pockets, as the scope of our contacts has spread throughout the globe. Your age can be found on any computer screen with a short search. We're an endangered species.

I know full well as I have been a target for years. I have learned all the techniques of guerilla warfare and then some. But gray hair, don't despair. We are older and wiser and do not have to turn ourselves into targets.

KOIN-TV recently featured a story on seniors being scammed, interviewing a man who was convincingly told on the phone that he owed fees for not showing up for jury duty, and if he did not pay, they would serve a warrant for his arrest. It was a class-act scam call. He went directly to the so-called source, the police station, and found this out.

Not so many others are that lucky. I was glad they showed the story but frustrated because they spent no time telling folks what they should and could do. The reality is, we are pretty much on our own.

When I moved to Summerfield two years ago, I was given a landline number that apparently had belonged to someone with a lot of bills. That created scammer hell for me, with no resolution in sight. I have received hundreds of calls day and night over the past two years, even in the middle of the night, from bill collectors. (I owe nothing.)

I learned to use a caller ID and to never answer the phone. Most scam callers do not leave a message. They want to get a live body. A caller number blocker only works to a degree, as real scammers will come up with never-ending new numbers.

I found the Do Not Call registry was a waste of time; I also found robo-calls (automated dialing or pre-recorded messages), which are illegal in Oregon, is not being enforced. I did join the millions of people who got online to complain, maybe therapeutic but not leading to answers.

For those who do answer, some creative ideas have been advanced. In a favorite comic strip, "Pickles," Earl answers the phone and says, "We are on the air. Let me put you on the mic." They hang up every time, he says.

Another complainer answers his phone with "This is Sam's roadside barbecue. You kill 'em, we grill 'em." I dreamed of answering as the Tigard police, saying, "How may I direct your call?" Even my knowledgeable techie has to deal with the problem and resorts to a very low-tech solution. "I just blow a whistle into the phone," he says.

Fact is, no one is doing anything to alleviate the problem, and billions of dollars are being lost. A 2015 survey estimates 27 million U.S. consumers lost approximately $7.4 billion to phone scams – an average of $274 per victim. Seniors and millennials are the biggest losers, and cell phones are no longer sacred territory for protection against con artists.

For the generations that did business with a handshake, did not lock doors and trusted others, this is a radical U-turn.

The world needs a whole lot more of those outdated ideas.

Syd Kanitz lives in Summerfield with the phone number of someone who did not pay his bills.

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