The Green Valley Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteers understands the trouble that scammers can cause for retirees and they are working with retailers to talk people out of purchasing gift cards that end up in the hands of fraudsters.
SAV Scam Squad volunteer Larry Charvoz said the group visits local retailers and banks once or twice a year to talk about scam issues. It also isn't unusual for the SAV to go to banks and retailers to help talk a customer out of making large gift card purchases or withdrawing large amounts of money — sure signs a scam is underway.
Scammers often send people to stores to buy gift cards. Once they have the number off the back of the activated card, the money is gone. They do not need to have the card in their possession to access the money on it.
Drug stores are working with SAV to avoid the scam, said Charvoz and SAV Commander Doug Kenyon. Stores like Walgreens will call the SAV when there is a customer who is potentially being scammed. Kenyon said he has been on calls to help talk someone out of purchasing gift cards for what appeared to be a scam.
The only thing they can do is to ask questions to get the would-be victim to realize they are being set up for a scam, regardless of what it is. When somebody has been told they've won a foreign lottery, for example, they ask them to produce a ticket. Playing foreign lotteries via mail or phone are illegal in the United States; consumers are bilked for about $120 million every year, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Charvoz said major retailers like CVS are doing more to help combat fraud.
CVS public relations manager Stephanie Cunha said employees receive training on warning signs that a customer may be a victim of fraud. She said CVS also requires customers to read and acknowledge a warning about potential scams when checking out, requires ID for $300 or more in gift card purchases, and limits gift card purchases to $2,000 per day.
Walgreens declined an interview request, but said in an emailed statement that it appreciates SAV's efforts.
Charvoz said it's not unusual to see a bank customer "who comes in bound and determined they're taking $10,000 out of there because their grandson is in trouble. And we go over and we try and do our best to tell them it's a scam. We do that quite often with the banks."
History of success
"We've been doing this now for seven years," Charvoz said about the Scam Squad, which has grown from three people to 14. "And we think we're making big strides because, more and more now, we get calls saying, 'They tried to scam me.' We're getting more of those calls than the ones that are going 'Oh, I think I just lost money.'"
Charvoz said the Scam Squad takes more than 1,000 reports per year and about 70 percent are people informing SAV about someone trying to scam them rather than having been taken for money. When the Scam Squad began in 2012, it was the other way around, he said.
Kenyon said the SAV will receive 80 to 90 calls per month about scams, not counting regular incident calls that later turnout to be scams.
Scammers figured out a long time ago how to make letters and emails look legitimate, but a Green Valley resident recently found out the hard way that they know how to duplicate websites, too.
Because Green Valley is a retirement community, Kenyon and Charvoz said it's a prime target for scammers. And while residents here may be targets, they are also more vulnerable when losing money, they added.
"(For) a lot of them it's their life savings and they can't afford to lose even $5,000; it's devastating to them," Kenyon said. "A lot of people are living on their retirement or Social Security and they don't have any savings."
The attention Green Valley receives as being an "upscale" community in retirement magazines can also attract scammers, Charvoz said.
"Upscale means we got money, and that's why these scammers just pound the heck out of (us)," he said. "We do have a lot of people here that have money, but we also have a lot of people that don't have money, too. And they seem to be, unfortunately, the ones that tend to be most vulnerable."