Mount Vernon Column: Beware of Scams

Mount Vernon Column: Beware of Scams


Recently, I attended a presentation at the Hollin Hall Senior Center by our Fairfax County Police on the growing threat of scams targeting seniors, sponsored by Mount Vernon at Home. This is an issue that I championed this legislative session in Richmond — combating these scams and protecting seniors are among my top priorities. Almost 20 percent of Fairfax County homes have residents over 65 years of age, so our community is a tempting target for con artists and flim flam men.

We all need to be hypervigilant and recognize that it is OK to hang up the phone or not to answer the door, and certainly it is a good idea to call the non-emergency police number for our Mount Vernon station, 703-691-2131, if you are at all dubious or concerned.

There are many scams aimed at seniors via the internet, over the phone and in person. Amazingly, just while I am writing this, I received a “robo call” encouraging me to press 1 to get a free “senior alert” product of some sort. I can’t tell you more because I promptly hung up, which I recommend you do as well.

Likewise, be very careful of the “woodchucks,” those guys who will cut down that “dead tree or limb” and end up charging you hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. Same goes for the guy who says he is “in the neighborhood” and just wanted to save you some money while he “seals your driveway” or “repairs your roof.” Ask for a written estimate and tell him that you are going to get two more estimates. A legitimate business (and one with a license) expects that.

Some of the scams include the popular IRS robo calls that look real on your caller ID because they use a 202 - Washington, DC, area code. Remember, the IRS will never call you. They write to you only. Do not call them back or engage with these con artists on the phone. Hang up!

There is the “warrant for missing jury duty” scam. And, the caller pretending to be your grandchild who is in trouble out of state and supposedly “needs bail money.” That one almost tricked my Dad. These guys are good, so don’t feel stupid if they take your money, but do let someone else that you trust know what happened. Too many of us are too embarrassed to come forward after being taken in. But, we can all fall prey to these con artists.

Online scams are legion. For example, you may recently have gotten an email with the subject line “Get Protected.” The email describes that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is supposedly offering great new features to help taxpayers protect their personal information and identities. It sounds so good that you may be tempted to click on the link provided — don’t be fooled.

It’s a scam!

Scammers pretending to be from the SSA send out the email offering new features to help consumers monitor their credit and learn whether someone is engaging in unauthorized use of their Social Security number. It sounds very official and may even mention the “SAFE Act of 2015.”

The Social Security Administration is not offering such a program. It’s actually a “phishing” email designed to get you to click on the link. Doing so could cause “malware” to be installed on your computer, like viruses and spyware.

The link might also take you to a “spoof” site designed to look like the SSA’s website and ask you to provide personal information, like your Social Security number and bank or credit account numbers. It’s all very clever. Be alert. And never click on any links.

Unsure about whether it’s for real? Here are a couple clues: “hover” your cursor over the address link in the email. If it’s fake, you’ll see that the address is an unrelated .com address, not the .gov address it appears to be. Sometimes it may be in your junk folder. If so, that’s because your email filters recognized that it wasn’t for real but they can’t catch everything.

If you’re unsure if an email is coming from the government, call or email them yourself. But use an email address you find yourself, not the contact info listed in the email sent to you.

During the 2016 session, I was the patron of HB620, which would have allowed financial institutions to hold suspicious transactions for a period of time until it could verify the validity.

I look forward to continuing to work on this and encourage all residents to contact me regarding this important issue if you have an idea for how to curb senior exploitation. You may reach me at