The most common way to send money is through a wire service like Western Union or MoneyGram. A Western Union customer service representative said agents are trained to identify suspicious transactions and hold payments until the identity of the receiver can be verified. Senders trying to wire more than $700 are automatically interviewed for their own protection.
The Western Union representative said he handles about five cases of suspected fraud a week.
Florida law requires employees of banks and credit unions to report suspected financial exploitation of the elderly, but such protection doesn’t cover this kind of scam committed by strangers, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. Other states like California have similar laws that do include this kind of fraud, but only against the elderly.
This fraud protection law helped one California woman get her money back from the bank because the teller failed to report it, even though the bank employee suspected it was a scam. Jaime Levine, an attorney with Elder Law and Advocacy in San Diego, said his client did not want to be named because she has become a constant target since falling victim to the scammer’s story months ago.
“It’s like she’s on some kind of scammer’s call list,” Levine said. “Once you pay anything in these scams, they go after you.”
The California woman withdrew $900 to send to someone in Canada claiming to be her grandson needing money for bail. After paying once, the scammers called back pretending to be a lawyer. He said he needed $2,000 to help her grandson. She sent three payments before the bank refused to let her withdraw more money.
The best way to avoid falling victim to phone scams is to “do your homework,” Concepcion said.
“Our main message is not to just take out your credit card or give your bank account number,” she said. “Get a phone number from the caller in case it is legitimate, but make a couple of phone calls to your loved ones to find out if it’s even possible that this could be true. The best protection is just a matter of being aware that these scams are out there.”