Tribune Print Share Text

Spreading the word

Sharing helpful tips from Scam alert reporter Michele Harris

Created date

February 16th, 2016
Michele Harris speaks about avoiding scams
Michele Harris speaks about avoiding scams

As residents of Springfield, Va., for more than 40 years, Bennie and Kathi Bough joined many of their neighbors and friends when they moved to Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, last year. 

For several years, the Boughs knew that Greenspring was where they wished to retire. They joined the priority list knowing that a future move to Greenspring would allow them to stay active in their local community and be close to their daughter, son, and five grandchildren, all of whom live nearby. 

Prior to their 2015 move, the Boughs received the Tribune on a monthly basis. 

“It’s a great source of information,” says Bennie. “We enjoyed reading about what people were doing at Greenspring. We also enjoyed columns like Michele Harris’s Scam alert column. She has a lot of good advice for seniors.”

In fact, Bennie was so impressed with what he read, that not long after his move he invited Harris to speak to his local Kena Shriners Retirees’ Club about ways in which seniors can, and should, protect themselves against fraud.

“The advice contained in Scam alert is great,” he says. “When planning for our monthly meeting, I reached out to Michele, knowing she could really help our members.”

Spreading the news

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, nearly 25 million Americans are victims of consumer fraud each year. Unfortunately, seniors continue to be a prime target for con artists and thieves. 

“We receive fraudulent mail all the time,” says Kathi. “We ignore it, but not everyone does. It’s scary to think how easy it is to be taken advantage of and how sneaky these people can be.”

A frequent user of both email and the Internet, Kathi also found scammers lurking on the social media site Facebook.

“My brother’s Facebook page was hacked, and I received a message asking for money,” she says. “Thankfully, my brother’s daughter called to let me know it was a scam.”

With so many seniors eager to learn how to better protect themselves from fraud, Harris addressed a packed house at last November’s Kena Shriners Retirees’ Club meeting.

“If I could only give one piece of advice, it would be to never, ever give out personal information over the telephone,” she says. “Once you do, there is no going back. Unfortunately, I receive mail all the time from readers who gave away personal information, realizing their mistake only when it was too late. Some of the stories are truly heartbreaking.”

According to Harris, one of the biggest fraudulent activities currently aimed at seniors are fake phone calls asking unsuspecting people to help a child or grandchild out of a serious situation by sending money. 

“These scammers prey on your love for your family members and it’s easy to see why people fall victim to their efforts,” she says. “It’s always best, before reacting, to reach out directly to the family members in question.” 

Right place to be

Fortunately for the Boughs, moving to Greenspring means living in a community that actively works to protect its residents from fraudulent efforts. Each year, Greenspring hosts a fraud prevention expo in an effort to educate residents and their families on measures seniors should take to protect themselves from fraud, scams, and exploitation. 

Members of the Fairfax County Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit, as well as AARP, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Shred-it, and TRIAD (Crime Prevention Unit for Seniors), visit Greenspring to share their expertise. 

Many of these organizations return to Greenspring throughout the year for its series of fraud prevention lectures. Greenspring’s in-house cable channel 6 videotapes the lectures for viewing throughout the community. Ongoing security efforts include the review of potentially fraudulent mail, on request, by Greenspring security staff, as well as education classes, emails, and handouts from the resident-led computer club. 

“There are many reasons why we feel so lucky to live at Greenspring,” says Bennie. “I’m grateful to have found Michele’s column and thankful that she agreed to share her expertise with the Kena retirees.”