Recently an older woman approached an employee of a major supermarket chain in our area seeking help with the Coinstar machine commonly used for counting loose change and returning paper dollars.
On the surface, that’s not unusual, but when the customer shared that she had received a call from the gas company about her unpaid bill that should be paid via Coinstar, red flags appeared.
The latest scam includes a call from a “gas company” representative who informs you of an overdue balance that must be paid immediately to avoid disconnection of service.
The scammer provides instructions to withdraw cash from your bank, deposit the money to a Coinstar kiosk, then convert the money to cryptocurrency via “Coin Me.” The instructions then direct you to send the “gas company representative” a photo of the cryptocurrency receipt along with personal identifying information.
In this case, disaster was avoided when the alert store employee informed the customer of the scam and advised her not to proceed. In fact, while they were speaking, the woman’s mobile phone rang with the “gas company employee” pressuring her to send the payment over. The older woman handed the phone to the store employee who asked them for a name and the call quickly ended.
Had she gone ahead with the transaction, the cryptocurrency would be gone and if sufficient personal identification information had been provided, she likely would have become the victim of identity theft and subsequent losses.
The ‘Red Flags’ of Scams
Oftentimes scammers are appear to be engaging, helpful people doing their job. But here are some critical things to know:
- Utilities do not phone you and request payment through any type of cryptocurrency or gift cards.
- Reputable businesses do not ask you to reveal personal information.
- No legitimate business should pressure you to do anything. Don’t succumb to it.
Reach Out for Advice
A general rule to live by is this: if you have any doubt, step back and reach out for advice from a trusted source.
Even if something sounds legitimate it may be the result of very polished con artists who practice their craft seven days a week. You can do a couple of things when in doubt:
- Ask for the caller’s name and phone number. If they hesitate or double talk, it’s a scam.
- Hang up. It’s your phone and they called you. Don’t worry about being rude, if they make you uncomfortable hang up and don’t answer until you can speak with a family member or trusted friend.
- Call your bank, accountant or attorney for advice. Professionals in your community are there to serve and help customers avoid harmful circumstances.
- Notify your local police via the nonemergency number if harassing calls continue.
- Better yet, don’t answer the phone. Let callers with unknown numbers go to your voicemail. If it’s important, they will leave a number and you can call them back.
The staff at Elderwerks is always here to help and answer questions at 855-462-0100. If something is on your mind, we encourage you to reach out.
• Jennifer Prell is president of Elderwerks Educational Services, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering complimentary information, referrals and guidance to older adults, seniors and their families for senior living, care, support and benefits. Go to elderwerks.org or call 855-462-0100 for personal assistance. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.