How to avoid telephone scams | Guest column

Liz Taylor

Liz Taylor


I don’t write much about telephone elder scams — it’s like warning against the ocean. Those who need to hear the message aren’t listening, and the rest seem already on top of it. Hmm, maybe not. Telemarketers seem to be getting wilier and more deceptive. Being on the federal “do not call” list doesn’t matter anymore – I receive calls repeatedly from people trying to sell me things – at least once a day. It’s hard to report them – many are robo calls or don’t say their company name. Some call and call to catch me when my “nos” are weak. Others use scare tactics about my safety or Social Security. Others call from phony nonprofits, trying to squeeze a few tear-soaked dollars from me.The most recent wrinkle: when I asked yesterday what the caller was selling, he replied, “Oh, I’m not selling anything – I just want to send you a free …”

In all things, be especially careful of “free.” I worked in federal consumer protection for 11 years and learned a hard and fast rule: never ever say “yes” to unsolicited phone calls. The one time (years ago) that I didn’t follow my rule – it was from the Seattle Ballet, and I thought, “This must be legitimate,” it was a scam. Back to the beginning: never say yes to an unsolicited phone call! An industry that’s alive and well in this country sells lists of telephone numbers and addresses based on their owners’ demographics – age, income, and gender. For certain businesses – like hearing aids, emergency call systems, funerals and other products used by older people – the lists can be goldmines. A few years ago I received a letter from a reader with an easy, simple way to thwart the bad guys: “Yesterday my 80-year-old mother got a phone call from a man who asked for the name of her bank because he had $8,000 for her. She couldn’t remember who her bank was and called me to ask. I said it sounded like a scam. The guy called her again and was impatient when she told him to call me but couldn’t remember my number. Fortunately, my mom can see the humor and advantage of her memory lapses. We laughed a bit but were concerned. Then a friend suggested I write a script for all calls. We did and typed it up in large print and placed it near her phone. I think others will be interested. Here it is:

‘My son/daughter handles all my accounts. You can reach him at __________.” If they call again, say, “Please send details in writing to _____________.” If the caller is rude, hang up. If they keep calling, say, “I’m calling the police!’”

With a little creativity, we can develop simple systems like this to protect our interests when our guard is down.

Liz Taylor has worked in the aging field for almost 40 years. You can reach her at