Paperwork: Hey, buddy, could ya spare a dime – or how about $100,000?

Lonny Cain

Bowman Breanna. Hmm. Yesterday, it was Pricilla Boerstler.

Both are sending me emails with attachments that look a lot like a bill I must pay – for something I did not order. I see “INVOICE” in large letters and some scary dollar figures.

The first time I saw this, I was a bit shocked. I wanted to open that attachment to see what’s going on. Fix the mistake. But I did not.

My scam radar was tingling. When that happens, I pull out my never-fail response to the daily question we all face: Is this a scam?

My formula is simple. The answer is always “YES!” Yes, it’s a scam.

If your best friend is standing in front of you – visible, touchable, definitely your best friend – asking when your birthday is, the name of your pet or wants to borrow a couple bucks for a cup of coffee, then run. Get out of there. It’s a scam.

If it’s your mother calling to see if you would run out and buy her a loaf of bread, hang up. It’s a scam.

Yes, this seems a bit harsh, but it’s the only path to financial security. Because we are all targets. Especially if you are older.

Every day I get fake emails and more through every social media connection that exists.

Bowman and Pricilla were clearly phony names. But a few months ago, I got an email from a friend simply asking if I ever ordered anything through Amazon. I responded and got this reply:

“I’ve been trying to purchase an Amazon $300 E-Gift card by email for a Friend of mine who is having is birthday today, can you help me purchase it at your end because am having issues charging my card. I contacted my bank, and they told me it would take a couple of days to get it sorted. then i will refund it back to you once i get it sorted out. Let me know then i can send you his email.”

My scam radar was buzzing. A quick text to my friend confirmed his email had been hacked. But damn ... I responded to the first email. A closer look at the email address would have been a clue.

That’s what the experts preach. Be alert. Watch for clues.

The cover of April’s AARP Bulletin shouts headlines that tell the tale: “Older Americans are under siege from scammers. Fraud 2024: It’s never been more pervasive. The latest fraud pitches. New tools for fighting back. Law enforcement wins. Now they’re using AI. We infiltrate their lair.”

The cover story begins: “Operating out of every corner of the globe, criminals are bombarding older Americans with emails, phone calls, tests and letters, all trying to steal as much of our money as possible.

“Consider that 2.6 million Americans – roughly equal to the population of Chicago – reported losing roughly $10 billion to fraud last year. And that’s merely the reported cases.”

Illinois consumers reported losing $244.7 million to fraud in 2023, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

AARP has a free Fraud Watch Network helpline (877-908-3360) that gets about 150 calls a day. The calls are sad and send a clear message: It’s easy to be fooled.

There are a lot of good tips in the AARP Bulletin, and we know most of them. We’re not stupid, right?

But when that call comes in from your grandson who is in trouble and needs your help, well, common sense still loses to human kindness.

So, stick with my formula. Everything is a scam, and everybody is working a con.

Sorry, moms.

• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His PaperWork email is, or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.