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TCSO warns seniors about phone scammers

On Wednesday, Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff and TCSO Capt. Nathan Taylor visited the LaGrange Active Life center to speak with seniors and warn them about the latest phone scams they should be aware of.

It’s not the first time they’ve done so, as scammers targeting seniors are an ever-present threat to their financial security.

“The most common ones are Social Security scams, in which somebody may call and say that the person’s card number has been compromised, and they’ll need to issue them a new one,” said Sgt. Stewart Smith of TCSO. “But before they’ll do that, they’ll ask the person to verify what their current number is, then by that point they’ve already given the number out, and it’s compromised.”

The number one piece of advice Smith had was for people to never give out their financial information over the phone unless they are 100 percent sure they are speaking to someone they know and trust.

Smith said financial scams spike in the spring as people begin filing their taxes. Scammers will call and offer people tax information, using it as an excuse to ask for sensitive financial information.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought yet another form of scam, however — vaccine scams. Per Smith, scammers have been calling the elderly, saying they can move people to the top of the vaccine list if they pay them money over the phone. 

“Of course, it doesn’t work that way,” Smith said. Vaccine priority is determined by people’s age, professions and health risks — the health department will not call you and ask for your financial information. 

Smith said people have filed police reports with TCSO after losing hundreds or thousands of dollars to scammers. Tracking down that money or the scammer who stole it is often beyond the scope of local law enforcement. Even if a phone number’s area code appears local, such as a (706) number, it may be someone from another state or country. It’s best to simply ignore calls from numbers you don’t recognize, Smith said. 

Those scammers from outside the community are difficult to trace. If you lose money to them, your only recourse may be to contact your bank or credit card company. 

“Those people are good enough that they actually use common area codes,” Smith said, adding that sometimes “they’ll clone an active phone number of somebody, and then it’s near impossible to track them down.”

The scams TCSO hears about are typically phone-based, but email-based fraud isn’t uncommon. Be wary of emails from strangers, Smith said. It’s best not to open emails that look like spam, but if you do, don’t click any links attached.

TCSO tries to spread the word about scams via social media and press releases, in addition to gong out into the community. Events with civic groups have become more difficult to do since the pandemic began, however.