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You've Won a Prize

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​​You've Won a Prize

​By Elizabeth Shean

I was sitting in my upstairs office, deep in thought on the subject of coronary artery disease (because these are the scintillating subjects I spend my days writing about), when I heard a commotion at the foot of the stairs. Mom was calling me, “Quick! Pick up the phone! You’ve won some kind of prize!”

As I ground my mental gears, shifting from pathophysiology to the concept of winning a prize, my hand gravitated toward the telephone. I picked up the extension. I heard Mom’s voice, chatting with a foreign-sounding man.

“Liz, are you there?” Mom said when she heard me click into the conversation. “We’ve won a free stay at a resort!”

I knew at once this had to be a scam.

“Who is this?” I growled at the man on the other end of the line.

“Ma’am?” he said, puzzled. He probably thought he had found his mark in the excited senior lady who’d answered, but now he was going to have to reckon with someone else.

“I said, ‘Who is this?’” I repeated in an icy tone.

“Who is THIS?” the man spat back at me. “I was talking to someone else. Get off the line.”

His aggressiveness took me by surprise. I’ve dealt with plenty of shady telemarketers in my time, but this took the cake.

“Mom,” I said into the receiver, “hang up the phone.”

A cacophony ensued. Mom was trying to explain to me about the “prize” we’d “won,” the scammer was shouting at me to get off the phone, and I was admonishing Mom to hang up. Immediately. Thankfully, she did.

Afterwards, I explained to her that she was on the verge of being victimized by a scammer. She wore a puzzled expression. “When I answered the phone, a woman’s voice said we had won a free stay at a five-star hotel, and I should stay on the line for details. I thought it had something to do with all your business travel,” she said, “and then the man came on and was going to give me instructions on how to redeem the prize. He said I needed to get my credit card, and that’s when I thought I should call you.”

Thank heavens!

Telephone scammers have become increasingly more aggressive, according to the IRS, and scammers also take advantage of seniors online as well. They send fraudulent emails that appear to originate from a friend or family member, and they disguise URLs to look like they’re legitimate. Some online criminals even put up entire websites that look like a perfect mirror image of a reputable site, such as your bank or a major corporation, and then induce you to provide confidential information the scammer can use to steal your identity. Many seniors understand how to take precautions against getting scammed or phished, but others may be vulnerable to these types of ruses.

Mom’s CAREGiverSM, Anita, told me about a website recently launched by Home Instead Senior Care® called Protect Seniors Online. I checked it out and it has a wealth of helpful resources for seniors—or anyone, for that matter—to become more aware of online risks and learn how to help protect against them. In fact, I took the “Can You Spot an Online Scam” quiz and realized I had a few things to learn, myself! The site covers best practices for email, social media, password protection, handling tax scams, and more.

I hate to think that there are scammers out there who’d try to take advantage of innocent seniors like my mom, but I’m glad Home Instead® is helping to raise awareness about ways to keep older adults and their personal information safe.


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