Senior Gift Card Scam ©

Scammers have found another way to put a “Grinch” in Christmas. And this time, according to a Nov. 20 Wall Street Journal story, the target is seniors.

The best way for me to explain the scam to you is to quote the first few paragraphs of that WSJ story, so here goes:

“Just as Toni Capen was about to leave her house to play bingo at the senior center, her phone rang: It was a young man claiming to be her grandson, asking her to buy Wal-Mart gift cards to bail him out of jail.

The young man, she said, sounded just like her grandson. He said he’d been driving with friends and been arrested. He handed the phone to a man he said was the arresting officer. The younger man pleaded with Ms. Capen not to tell his mother. After she hung up, she dialed her grandson’s cell phone, but he didn’t answer. She said this convinced her that he was, in fact, in jail without access to his phone.

She went straight to the bank and withdrew $4000 in cash and then on to her local Wal-Mart.

What happened to Ms. Capen less than two years ago is becoming increasingly common-or at least is being reported with greater frequency.”

So that’s how Julie Jargon, the WSJ writer, starts her half page story of the latest scam targeted at seniors preying on their sympathy toward their grandchildren.

Sound preposterous? Julie goes on to report that through September of this year, seniors have reported losing $74 million dollars in such scams. How many more went unreported by seniors too embarrassed to admit they had fallen for such a scam?

If my late mother-in-law hadn’t been the target of a similar “IRS” scam three years ago I would ask how could seniors be so naive. But I was on that call with her and those scammers were so professional, they almost had me convinced for awhile. That call so upset mom that it spiked her blood pressure and the next morning she died of a massive stroke. Is it any wonder I get outraged at these scams, especially those aimed at seniors?

The WSJ story goes on to explain there are variations of this scam such that some come to you via email.

So what to do, if you or your senior are targeted by this or similar scams?

1. Hang up on fishy calls. No legitimate business or government agency is going to accept payment in the form of gift cards.

2. Verify the caller. If someone who sounds like a relative calls and claims to be in trouble and needs money, hang up and call that person back or another trusted relative.

3. Confirm the email. If you receive an email asking for money or gift cards, make sure the email is actually coming from who it claims. Verify by calling them. Scammers are very clever in duplicating emails, logos and letterheads to make things appear official.

4. Report the scam. Immediately call the Sheriff and/or the local FBI field office.

I hate to be the Grinch messing up your eggnog this Christmas season but I’s rather play that role than weep with you after losing your life’s savings. I hope you have a safe and joyous Christmas season this year with your family and friends.

Thanks for reading All About Seniors…..see you next week!

Bill Milby is a Director of Visiting Angels® of Central Georgia, a non-medical, living assistance service for seniors. If you have questions or comments about this column you can reach him at

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