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How to Recognize a Scammer When You Meet Him or Her in 2017

A Scammer Scans for the Vulnerable

A scammer found my elderly sister-in-law one night when she checked her email. Up popped up a warning that said her computer had multiple viruses and she needed IMMEDIATE help.

She believed that she did. The problem seemed more urgent than waiting to make a call to Geek Squad, a service she already had. She did not call them. She didn’t call her family. She did not tell anyone – just like the scammer said.


Alone with your computer? Frustrated? You might be vulnerable to a scammer.

She didn’t know why she trusted him.

I say elderly sister-in-law, but she a bit younger than I am, she could be your age. She lives alone, doesn’t earn very much, and saves every penny she can. She clicked a pop-up window on her computer, and somehow she began a relationship with an abusive scammer. He emailed her that could fix her computer for $300.

She loves her computer. It opens the world of distant friends and relatives on Facebook.

She decided to fix the computer.

She watched the cursor move. The scammer had control. But wait, he could help her establish online banking, too. So she trusted him. She did not have credit – anywhere. He began calling her, giving her instructions. The phone would ring at night when she was tired after working all day. She responded like it was another chore on her growing list of things that she had to do.

The scammer began calling her, giving her instructions.

“No, I don’t have credit.”

“You need to go to the nearest store and get a gift card from iTunes to pay for this.”

So she did.

“OK, now just email me the code. OH NO! It was blocked. You’ll have to do it again.”

So she did.

“Don’t go to that store, it did not work. Get it from this store instead. Here I’m going to help you. I’ll put $1,500 into your account. You can pay me back later with the card you’re going to get from this other store.”

So she did – again. The bank called her and asked if she authorized the charge at the store. She told them that she did. She owed money for the work on the computer.

“It’s still not working. Go to Walmart this time. No, that’s ok, I’m checking your account online. The payment does not seem to be going through. No, you don’t talk to the bank. I’ll take care of this. Trust me or you won’t ever get your computer back.”

So she did not.

“Do you know much about computers? Wouldn’t you love to have online banking? Then you don’t have to go into the bank to check on your account. I’m going to set you up with online banking. I’ll send you the password. Here I can take a selfie of you. Get your driver’s license. Hold it next to your face. Perfect. Now just the driver’s license.”

But he did not send the password. In fact, he started yelling at my sister-in-law when he called her late at night.

Why is he yelling at me? He doesn’t have the right to yell at me, she thought. Yelling makes me mad.

“You took my money,” my sister-in-law accused him.

“No worries, it did not go through.”

Even after she accused him, the scammer left voice messages on her phone and sent her emails.

She went to the bank. The bank told her that all her charges processed. Since she charged the items, she was liable. She immediately went to the police station. She called Experian.

She has a lot of work to do to get out of this. Thursday she has an appointment with DMV. Most likely she will have to get a new driver’s license.

More Important Than Money

“This is more than about the money. I feel so dumb. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I finally trusted a counselor and she sent me right to the bank.The bank sent me right to the police station. I feel like I’ve been trapped.”

ScammerWe Hear About Scammers and Think We Won’t Be Touched

Years ago I trusted a superintendent in California. I knew him. I just didn’t know he wasn’t himself on Facebook. A scammer got me. Fortunately, I lived with someone who wasn’t in the grips of the scammer at the moment. I didn’t want to tell my husband. I’m smart, well-educated and an independent. Here was a man to whom I looked up and respected, a superintendent telling me that he thought he saw my name on a list, and I was going to win $200,000 just like he did. I questioned the scammer a lot, I almost believed him!

However, I did tell my husband and asked him what he thought.

“Are you sure it’s him?” Vince asked.

“Of course, we talked about all kinds of things first.”

“Just call him.”

“Why? I’m chatting with him.”

“Check to see if he is online.”

I was embarrassed to call the superintendent. Of course, he was online. We were chatting. But I listened to my husband. I called the administrator and asked if he was online.

“No,” he replied.

“You’ve been hacked, then,” I told him.

I reported the scammer, and never heard back from him.

A Scammer Keeps Calling Until the Victim Takes Action or Has Nothing Left

This scammer man called my sister-in-law several times over a month’s time. He asked her to do things, and she did it unquestioningly thinking the problem would go away. The scammer became verbally abusive and continued to raise havoc with her credit score. She finally got mad at him, told someone else.  She took action to protect herself even though it was humiliating.

What Can We Do?

We don’t have to sit back and be victims or let someone we love be a victim.

Check up on family and friends frequently if they have had a loss or trauma in their lives. Maybe they are fragile. My mother-in-law paid someone to mow her grass one time. He came back four times and collected a total of $1,200. His line:

“You forgot to pay me. It’s $300.”

My husband’s aunt was there the last time he came. She threatened him and said she was calling the police. We knew my husband’s mom was a little forgetful, but being out of state and visiting only a few times a year, we did not realize that she had worsening dementia until an aunt called us and told us what happened.

We had to take legal action on her behalf. The bank limited her ability to write checks over $100. She wouldn’t leave her home, but we kept tabs on her after that through the aunt and an attorney. We gave the aunt the right to make decisions on her behalf so she could stay in her home for a while longer.

Don’t be afraid to ask loved ones if they have had suspicious email or online requests from strangers. It’s hard to admit that we could fall for a scammer. My husband thought, “How could my sister do that?” His sister wondered the same thing about herself. It’s like being in an alternate reality. If I hadn’t almost fallen for something similar, I would have felt the same thing. But it can happen to anyone, especially at a vulnerable time.

Be rude. If you practice the kind of etiquette our grandparents taught us as children, a scammer will use it against us. It goes against the grain to be rude. Scammers count on our politeness.

Instead, hang up on calls you suspect might be spammers or scammers. I wait for a second after I answer the phone and say hello. If no one responds immediately, I hang up. If they try to sell me something I tell them no thank you and hang up without waiting for a reply.

Vince’s sister said “I always try to be nice to people. I am nice to people, but he made me mad! I told him he took my money. He admitted that he did.”

Communicate with others to protect yourself.

We have to take responsibility for ourselves and for others around us who are not able to care for themselves.

  1. Cover the cam recorder on your computer until you want to use it. My camera now has a Post-it on top of it. A scammer can hack in and see what you are doing. You don’t want to pose for selfie’ as my sister-in-law did. The scammer knows her address and date of birth.
  2. Individually we need to communicate with loved ones, people proven to care about us. We cannot live isolated from others. We must have people who care about us in real time, on location. A scammer looks for individuals who are lonely and seem not to have someone else who cares about them.
  3. We must not be embarrassed or too proud to admit we might get scammed. If we think it can’t happen to us, we are pridefully wrong. Senior adults do forget and get confused more often than middle-aged adults.  So retirement-aged adults need to be aware of scams.
  4. There is legislation in place to protect consumers from scammers, but the law is not enough to stop evil and greedy people from trying to steal from us. A scammer works at scamming. They think of it as their jobs. In fact, some of them may be working a 9-5 job scamming for a salary or commission. If you are strong and convinced they are scamming you, urge them to walk away from the job of scamming. Help them to feel guilty about what they are doing. Remind them of how it would feel if someone did what they are doing to their wife, child or mother.
  5. Be aware of exorbitant prices for services. Do not pay more than an items costs new to repair it. My sister-in-law paid more than six times what her computer cost. Even the original charge was nearly the cost of a new computer.
  6. NEVER take orders from a scammer over the internet! You do not have to go to the bank to withdraw money. You do not have to buy iTunes gift cards. You do not have to give them the code for the gift card, or your bank account. It’s ok to hang up and not do what they order you to do!
  7. NEVER make instant decisions on the internet.
  8. Tell your friends if you notice a new friend request from an old friend on Facebook. Hackers or scammers send friend requests. If you are always friends with someone, don’t friend them again. Check if you don’t remember. Report the fraud to the friend and Facebook.
  9. Don’t open suspicious emails or emails from strangers.

How Do We Combat a Scammer AFTER We a Scammer Swindles Us?

After the fact, we must act quickly and take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

  1. Report the fraud to our bank.
  2. Report the crime to the police.
  3. Report the fraud to one of the Credit Reporting Companies Equifax 1‑800‑525‑6285 Experian 1‑888‑397‑3742 TransUnion 1‑800‑680‑7289

The most helpful and complete set of steps I found to follow up on identity theft is from the Federal Trade Commission. The booklet tells how to fix the problem.

Can We Eliminate Scammers Through the Legal System?


Communicate often with others to protect yourself from scammers.

Nothing I found suggests that we can eliminate the scammer problem.

We must report all fraud and scams to the FTC. The Commission can bring the kinds of cases that shut down the scammers. However, scamming is an international problem, not only a national one. There’s another place to report international scams: “The site is run by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) and is a partnership of 34 consumer protection agencies around the world. Starting today, an updated version of the site is available – it’s mobile-friendly, has a user-friendly complaint form, and you can get consumer information and file claims in English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Spanish, and Turkish.”


The internet brings us instant information, freedom of doing something from home that used to take hours or was even impossible. Remember needing to get to the bank before it closed at 3:00 pm if you needed some cash for your weekend trip? We can’t go back to the sixties and before, and don’t want to. Legislation helps protect us as consumers, but it is not the only answer. The laws didn’t stop bank robbers from robbing a bank. Instead, changes in technology made it harder to physically rob banks.

As a society in 2017, we are at risk from people who know how to hack into our banking systems, our government, our way of life using the internet. But we can take steps to keep from becoming victims. And we have recourses to take if we a scammer tries to ruin our lives. We might not get our money back, but we can get our lives back.

Respond Please

Maybe you have more ideas. Feel free to share them in the comment box.

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17 replies »

  1. OH and good one, my paranoia about hackers and creepers has me too keeping my webcam covered with a post-it-note. One never knows! 🙂


  2. Fabulous post Marsha! You’ve given a lot of info. I wrote a few posts last years on scammers. One in particular that was (and maybe is) going on was Scammers sending emails pretending they are Revenue Canada (Your IRS), They are targeting seniors who don’t know all the ropes.
    I received a couple of different spam scams last year. One of them claimed to be a company I never heard claiming I had an unpaid invoice of $50,000. I received it, looked very unprofessional, weird email address not professional and no website in the signature. I did some FBIing on the web and located the send in Mexico. Then I called the fraud squad to report them and forwarded them the emails. They were grateful I notified them and we ended up talking on the phone about scammers for over half an hour, lol. Dang, I should have been a reporter. 🙂
    But seriously, it’s awful to think your sister-in-law fell for this blatant scammer. Those are the people they pray for and prey on to hook them in.
    I’ll be sharing this around. 🙂


    • Thank you so much, Debby. I don’t know what there is about us that we fall for some of them. The guy that owns the grocery says there is an attorney that sends people driving around and they claim that the building is inaccessible and sue. The net result is about $50,000. He said they are going like crazy because the Gov is cracking down on them.


  3. I guess in some situations being a suspicious person or cynical can really help you. My husband had someone call him once saying that there was something wrong with his computer than ran windows, and so he questioned them, asking them which machine? He kept asking until they hung up on him. Dave doesn’t run windows on any of his computers so he knew it was a scam. If I get notifications like that, I always go to Dave and ask. Scary though.


    • I got a Windows thing like that, too, and I had an Apple computer, so I just ignored it. I did tell Vince, though. Now I’ll have to be more careful. I have a new computer, and it’s Windows. 🙂 FAST! Yeah! 🙂


  4. Scammers are out there looking for an opportunity, and anyone can present that opportunity. Thanks for posting this, Marsha. Great information here.


  5. This made me cringe, Marsha. I’m always so worried about my mother and father-in-law and have even snatched the credit card from my father-in-laws hands when he was on the phone one day. The latest scam I know of is when someone calls you and says ‘can you hear me?’ You say “yes” and they then have your agreement recorded for anything they want to get out of you. Nasty, nasty people,


    • That is a bad one. This guy was calling Cindy last night while she was talking to me on the phone. I told her to turn her phone off as soon as she hung up with me. She is afraid, but also still strangely drawn to answer. I told her he would just yell at her at this point because she has cut off his money tree. He is mad. What is weird is the strange relationship they establish. Another friend talked to one of them for weeks, playing dumb and telling why he couldn’t do what the guy wanted just then, but could he call back. They guy did. After weeks and weeks, he told the guy how much of his time he had wasted and how ashamed he should be that he was trying to scam old innocent people. “You are going to hell,” he told him. He said, “You need to get up and walk away and leave this life forever.” The scammer listened to him for about 15 minutes. He never called back.


    • They are clever, and the establish relationships with people. If they were good people, they’d be fantastic with old people, making them feel wanted and needed.


    • I told Cindy your story, too. This whole thing makes you feel incredibly dumb, violated, and angry. Yet when he called again last night I was on the phone with her and I had to tell her over and over not to answer it again, ever! There is something that draws you to it. I understand that it happens, have had similar things happen to me, but don’t for the life of me understand how we are so gullible. I just know we are. Thanks so much for sharing your story so openly, Ralph. I respect you and your intelligence, and it makes us realize that anyone of us can be taken. Another friend of mine had several checks written out of our non-profit account when his house was robbed. He knew the person, and he fell for it more than once. We got part of it back. He was a retired administrator, and treasurer of several nonprofits. Anyone can fall for scammers.





Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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