Woster: When you get older, scams and cons are everywhere

We older folks apparently are easy to dupe, quick to trust what we hear and, well, not very smart, I guess you’d say.


Maybe I have trust issues, but these days when I’m on social media sites, I find myself looking for the scam in every post I read.

I usually can’t spot the catch, but I’m pretty sure there is one. My AARP magazines tell me senior citizens are a rich environment for con artists and hustlers. We older folks apparently are easy to dupe, quick to trust what we hear and, well, not very smart, I guess you’d say. Those aren’t flattering things to say about an old guy, but if they prevent any one of us from dumping our life savings into buying a can’t-miss gold mine in Uruguay or bailing out a jailed grandchild in Costa Rica, I’ll let people call me names all day long.

For me, scams about inheriting a fortune from a never-before-heard-of South American billionaire uncle are easy to avoid. That’s so preposterous I know it couldn’t happen to me. I didn’t always listen to my mom, but I heard her when she said if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Read more of Terry Woster's columns here.

The posts that puzzle me are the seemingly innocent ones. Facebook has a number of them every single day. For example, a post might say, “Do you love your spouse? If you do, comment with the year you were married.’’ OK, nobody cares what year Nancy and I were married except our close friends and relatives, and most of them remember that hot, windy day in, well, that’s for us to know. I see people responding with their wedding dates, though, and I wonder what possible use that information could be for some mountebank intent on online mischief.


Or, there’s this one: “Give us the name of a fish that doesn’t contain the letter A. Bet you can’t do it.’’ Even before I finish reading the post, I’m thinking “trout.’’ That’s what nearly anyone who ever lived by a Black Hills stream or visited the fish hatcher near Spearfish would think, right? When I saw that one, my hands moved toward the keyboard. I pulled back, because nobody likes a know-it-all. My mom taught me that, too. Also, there has to be a reason some trickster wants to know if I can name a fish without an A in its name. I can’t see the con but there’s one somewhere.

And what about the posts that show a picture of some household or farm device and ask who’s old enough to remember what it is? I see those a lot. I’m old enough to remember most of the items pictured, but I refrain from saying so. Knowing I’m old enough to recognize the picture must somehow give a clever cheater an important insight into ways to scam me into buying a handful of gift cards and turning them over. I can’t recall ever buying a gift card, but who knows how persuasive a polished con artist might be.

For my money (and I hope it never is my money), the social media posts are less dangerous than the simple telephone calls offering riches in return for something like, oh, a few bucks and my savings account number. Sometimes when I get on a phone call with someone I don’t know, I get flustered and forget to think ahead. I have hearing issues, too, so I don’t always understand exactly what’s being said. I’ve trained myself, usually, to avoid saying “yes’’ in such calls, but I probably could be rushed into forgetting that.

An old friend had such an experience when he answered his phone a while back and the voice over the poor connection called him “grandpa.’’ Caught off guard, he blurted the name of one of his grandsons. The caller immediately said it was indeed that grandson, in a jam and needing some cash quickly. Fortunately, my friend settled down, asked a couple of questions that convinced him it wasn’t his grandson. He hung up, his life savings intact.

I’d like to say I’d be that smart, but there are a lot of charlatans out there. I prefer to ignore the phone and see if the caller leaves a message.

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