Positive Aging Thought Leader: Maria Olsen
Senior citizens often are targeted by scammers.
My mother’s best friend lost thousands of dollars in a bank scam, in which she believed her bank was asking her to transfer funds. My grandmother used to enter countless magazine subscription contests in the hope of winning elusive millions. It is with increasing frequency that my Baby Boomer friends are relating stories of scam artists attempting to target them.
Personal Or Financial Information:
Our Kuel Life founder, Jack Perez, was one of these friends. Jack received a couple of emails that looked like they came from Best Buy store’s Geek Squad about renewing her service subscription with them. The caller said they would bill her credit card for $350 for the following year.
“We generally want to trust our fellow humans. But with money at stake, we do so at our peril.”
Jack did not have this plan with them, however. “I never bought one,” Jack said. “I called their customer service number and when they said the only way they could stop the charge from occurring was to access my laptop remotely, I knew something was up. In addition, I asked to speak to the manager, which they would not allow me to do. Finally, they hung up on me because once I figured them out, I started playing with them.”
Jack was lucky because she was careful and did not disclose any personal or financial information. We generally want to trust our fellow humans. But with money at stake, we do so at our peril.
Many of us have received calls from people purporting to be from the Social Security Administration. The SSA never calls individuals. If you are contacted by a government or financial institution, ask for their email address and phone number so you can initiate any calls and ensure that the organization’s information is correct.
It Could Be A Scam:
Those of us who are authors, journalists, and experts often supplement our income. And take steps to spread our messages by doing public speaking gigs. Never before had it occurred to me that an invitation to speak at an event, especially at a religious institution, could be a scam.
I received an invitation last month to speak at a 600-person church conference in London this fall. The invitation came under the actual name of the presiding minister at a Catholic church. The theme of the event was “Big Things: How to Start Small.” I was invited “to inspire these people, teach them how to triumph over the deflating effects of setbacks & self-doubt, break free from whatever is keeping them ‘small,’ and become empowered by their challenges, rather than victimized.”
These are all topics about which I have spoken at other venues. History of the church was cited, and the church’s Facebook profile link was included. Bible verse appeared under the minister’s signature. The minister’s photo appeared next to his email address.
I declined the speaker’s fee, since they were a nonprofit organization and were offering to put me up in a nice hotel and fly me business class to London. I even was invited to bring an assistant to accompany me.
The Conference Organizers:
I have friends in London and grew excited to see them again. Moreover, I told several people about the engagement, including my mother, who proudly shared the news with her circle of friends.
“The contract to speak looked legit. No money was requested in the first few emails.”
The conference organizers informed me that I would need a temporary work permit to be paid by a U.K. organization to speak there. Sounded reasonable. Then they asked me to pay for the visa. When they asked me to wire the funds to a private individual, allegedly a church member who would walk my work permit application through the process, I grew suspicious.
The invitation letter used a real church official’s name and address, and the emails were filled with entreaties about God-directed actions leading them to find me. Upon further inspection, the email came from a gmail address, using the minister’s name. Note that if you click on a sender’s name in an email, you can see the email address and whether it actually belongs to the organization. The contract to speak looked legit. No money was requested in the first few emails. But the later request for funds to cover the visa triggered my hesitancy to wire funds to anyone.
Research The Organization And The Event:
I did a Google search of scams involving speaking at churches in the United Kingdom. I found a 2020 Christianity Today article in which the email scheme was described as having started in 2012 and involving hundreds of U.S. Christian leaders invited to events at U.K. churches by scammers who hope to collect hundreds of dollars in visa fees ahead of the purported conferences. One church put a notice up on its website warning speakers that there was no such conference happening at their location and that no emails were sent by its provost.
Perhaps it was partially my ego that caused me to take the request seriously and to miss the red flags. Though I have spoken all over the United States, it would have been my first engagement abroad. My hope in publishing this piece is to prevent another person from falling prey. If you are invited to speak somewhere, ask for links to the event, and research the organization and the event. Never wire money to anyone, unless you are absolutely certain that it is necessary.
“The scammers must have a fair amount of successes, or I doubt the criminals would continue to try.”
I am only 60, but I came close to being scammed. Perhaps as our population ages, more criminals will set their sights on those in middle age. Their methods will become more sophisticated, as the internet’s tentacles further invade our privacy.
Communication With The Scammers:
I emailed the London church to let them know that their name was being used to extract money from people in the U.S. They were saddened to hear this news and assured me that there was no upcoming conference.
Some speakers were not as lucky as I, and wired funds. The scammers must have a fair amount of successes, or I doubt the criminals would continue to try.
In my last communication with the scammers, I asked them how they could use the name of a church—a place where people go for home and spiritual salvation – for their ventures. They did not reply.
It behooves all of us to be careful about financial matters, especially as we approach retirement and income sources may diminish. Do your research and protect yourself from unscrupulous schemes, even those that appear to come from churches.
About the Author:
Maria Leonard Olsen is an attorney, author, radio show and podcast host in the Washington, D.C., area. For more information about her work, see www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com and follow her on social media at @fiftyafter50. Her latest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, which has served as a vehicle for helping thousands of women reinvigorate their lives, is offered for sale on this website.