“Scams on the rise, here’s how to avoid them”
Anna, 72 years old, didn’t fall for it: when on the intercom some strangers identified themselves as carabinieri and asked her to “open the door” because “her neighbor had to speak to her and they couldn’t reach her” she refused to open , inviting them to call the condominium administrator. But for a scam foiled thanks to the promptness of a potential victim, dozens of others are carried out to the detriment of the most fragile segment of the population, the elderly, deceived in increasingly creative and imaginative ways.
“The objective is to take advantage of a moment of fragility – confirms Major Alberto Pinto, commander of the Trionfale carabinieri company – of a moment in which perhaps one is concentrated on other things or is caught off guard. The scammer tries to gain the victim’s trust by trying to put them at ease, or alternatively to confuse them.”
Pinto organized a meeting on the topic on Thursday afternoon in the parish of San Pio open the door to people you don’t know, always check with a phone call whether the person in front of you is who they say they are, and report any scam attempts to 112. And every successful scam too.
Scammers leverage emotions: “They confuse and send victims into a tailspin”
“Often out of shame the elderly person does not report it, he thinks he has been careless and imprudent, he is convinced that in any case he will never see the stolen cash or jewels again and he does not report it – confirms the major – In reality the report is fundamental, and serves more to we and the victims: if the episode is reported we have more investigation elements, we can understand which areas were targeted and act accordingly”.
However, it is not always possible to overcome the shame of having been defrauded, of having fallen for that scam which in retrospect is so evident: “This is precisely where the skill of the scammer lies. He often has a great ability to empathize with the person in front of him, and thus manages to insinuate himself into the home – continues Pinto – Others instead focus everything on emotions and stress: they confuse the elderly person, they overwhelm him with information, or they put him in a great state of agitation and push him to act.”
The data speaks clearly on this. In two years of the pandemic, crimes have decreased at a general and national level, but those that have increased, against the trend, are arguments and mistreatment in the family and scams, particularly towards the elderly. Who often find themselves isolated and feel excluded from a world that travels at a speed they struggle to keep up with: “We happened to receive reports from people who paid money because their son or grandson had had an accident, a scam among the most classic, and it turned out that they didn’t even have a child or a grandchild. It seems absurd, but in those very excited moments, when at the other end of the phone there is someone screaming, crying or pleading, or someone passes off as an authority, the automatic reaction is to obey and comply with requests to resolve the situation.”
From the donation scam for Ukrainian refugees to cutting bills
The fake accident scam is among the most common and used: the victim receives a phone call from a person posing as a family member, or alternatively a lawyer or a representative of the police force. The person explains that there has been an accident, and that a sum of money is needed to avoid prison, a sort of “bail” which is then given to an accomplice who shows up at the building or at the door to collect. In some cases the victims have the clarity and promptness to call the relative in question, or the police, to verify, in others however the scammer manages to “enter” the mind of the person in front of him and make him defenseless.
“A neighbor of mine told me that he was hypnotized by the scammer, can something like this happen?”, asked a pensioner with a hint of skepticism and a little fear. Pinto responded without taking anything for granted: “Hypnosis is actually unlikely, it is more likely that it was a clever mental game in which through words the scammer ‘sent the victim into a tailspin’ and managed to confuse him and to act. It rarely happens that scammers then drug their victims, because the substances needed to do so are expensive and the situation may no longer be controllable.”
Then there is the scam of the fake courier, that of the fake postal employee, that of the technician of water, electricity or gas supply companies. And in this last period, those linked to two highly topical issues are increasing: the war in Ukraine, with people posing as members of associations or volunteers who collect funds to donate to the Ukrainian population or refugees, and the high bills.
In the latter case, the scammers show up at the door to offer discounts and new solutions for saving on gas and electricity, or to check the systems to avoid leaks, and once in the house they take possession of what they find, be it cash or jewels.
“Never open the door, always check with 112: it’s the only safe route”
“It happened to me that a man reached me under the door and told me he had come to check my bathroom because there had been a leak in the upper apartment – says another pensioner – He waited for me under the house and he insisted. I didn’t let him in, but how should we behave in these situations?”. It happens often, Pinto nods, but the advice remains the same: never let anyone into the house, always keep the door chain inserted when talking to someone outside to prevent them from creeping into the house.
Also pay attention to the peephole: “Scammers often close the peephole with a finger, or use the mobile phone’s flashlight and point it at it to blind the viewer – explains Pinto – the advice already given also applies in this case: never open to see who it is , always call 112 to report that there is someone in front of our door and that we don’t know who they are. Never believe even anyone who shows a law enforcement card, because it really takes very few minutes to fake one. You must always, always check with the single emergency number. Don’t worry about the possible waste of time: if the person in question is who he says he is there won’t be any kind of problem, but if he’s a scammer you will have helped us catch him.”
The appeal is also aimed at children, grandchildren and relatives: upon hearing of the scam, it is essential to help and accompany the elderly person to make a report to allow the police to gather useful information.