Older Minnesotans fall victim to check scams simply because they are kind and generous. Uma from Oakdale, MN, received a $5,000 check in the mail with instructions to call the phone number on the check. She called and spoke with the sender who told her she could cash it, keep a portion of the money for herself and send the rest to an address the sender gave to her. Not knowing she was falling victim to a scam; Uma followed the scammer’s instructions. When the check didn’t clear, Uma’s bank contacted her and told her she had to pay the money back.

Marcia Dahleen, senior service coordinator at Canvas Health, supports seniors and people with disabilities so they can remain independent. She has helped a lot of older adults in the aftermath of a scam, including Uma. “We went to her bank together to see what could be done. Unfortunately, the bank was not responsible for covering the amount of the check that Uma willingly cashed. She had also already spent what she believed to be her portion.” Marcia said Uma didn’t understand why the police couldn’t trace the check to the address and sender it came from.

Marcia wishes she could have been more helpful to Uma. “Seniors don’t want to admit that they need help, and some don’t have family to help,” she says. “By the time Uma came to me, it was too late to stop the scam.” Marcia wants older adults to know it’s okay to reach out for help when a check, phone call or other solicitation seems suspicious. “Senior LinkAge Line® specialists from Trellis come to our buildings every year to provide information on fraud and how to protect yourself from it. We want seniors to know they can call the Senior Linkage Line.”

How to protect yourself from check fraud
Mary Madill is an outreach volunteer and ambassador for Trellis and gives Senior LinkAge Line presentations on fraud to older adults. Mary says scammers take advantage of people by preying on their emotions. “You must be vigilant and know how to protect yourself. Don’t ever cash a check from someone you don’t know or give information about your identity to anyone over the phone, including someone who says they’re with the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS will never call you; they only communicate through the mail.”

Here are some tips from Mary to protect yourself from check scams:

  1. Don’t cash a check from an unknown person or organization before verifying it.
    If a check shows up in your mailbox without previous contact with the person or organization via phone, email or text, it’s likely a scam. If unsure, take it to your bank and have them check it out. They will typically know within 7-10 business days if it’s valid or fake.
  2. If a check shows up with instructions to forward money by a given date, it’s a scam.
    Any legitimate company or organization will allow time for your bank to verify a check they have sent.
  3. Anytime someone tells you they need to use your bank account to transfer money, it’s a scam.
    Wire transfer companies like Western Union are available to anyone who needs to transfer money. Check scams typically start with a phone call, text or email explaining a situation that plays on a person’s emotions and desire to help an urgent cause. As compensation for using your account, they say you can keep some of the money and transfer the remainder to the organization in need via a fraudulent bank account.
  4. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Don’t fall for it.
    Anyone you don’t know who is offering you money to do something is usually
    scamming you.

Mary and Marcia say there are a lot of scams out there, and they want older Minnesotans and their adult children to be aware and prepared. For more information on protecting yourself from fraud, register to attend a live or virtual presentation by the Senior Linkage Line at trellisconnects.org/presentations. If you need help, call the Senior Linkage Line at
(800) 333-2433.

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