When he opened the envelope, it wasn’t a legal admonishment, of course. It was a fake sweepstakes scam. You’ve won 1.8 million dollars! Send this back to the “Tri-State Department of Financial Sustenance” or some other official sounding name, printed on a thick piece of paper that looked like like a stock certificate.
The last time I’d seen scam letters disguised as government correspondence was in the late 1980s, when I visited my grandparents a few times a week.
So why was my friend, who never gets on any weird mailing lists or enters any contests, getting a letter like this all of a sudden? I couldn’t figure it out at first. Then it dawned on me.
My friend is in his early 50s, as I am, and thus fast approaching the prime age for scammers. “Old people” (as in 55 or over, especially retirees) bear the brunt of phone, snail mail and now email scammers. Scammers can easily find out what age range you’re in from surveys and other legitimate marketing listings.
I learned about scams targeting seniors firsthand when I worked in a phone sales room in Metairie, Louisiana in 1994. I was new in town and the job market in NOLA wasn’t exactly hopping, so I took a phone sales gig to tide me over til I got something else.
The job was located in a trailer and the boss assigned me and two other clean-cut, well-dressed new hires to sell timeshares in Arizona from a communal table in the back of the room. The star sellers had desks in the front, loud booming voices and wore shorts and T-shirts with garish sayings.
We often heard them arguing with people on the other end of the phone, extolling them to hand over their credit card numbers OR ELSE. In the calls I overheard, the victims succumbed to the bullying instead of hanging up.
The star salesman was an obese, wheelchair-bound guy, who weighed about 400 pounds. He gave the other phone scam employees sales tips. “Call small towns in the South and Midwest,” he suggested “There are lots of lonely retirees and seniors who will give money away just to talk to someone.”
He also bragged about cops raiding some of the phone sales "boiler" rooms he’d worked in.
I just quit the job after a few days. Although I made a few timeshare sales, I spent most of the calls gabbing with the prospects and got reprimanded for it a few times. The time share prospects were young professional types, not seniors. Even though the fast-talking Yuppie type who hired me assured me that the time shares were legit, I didn’t believe him. I soldiered on to another throwaway job at a chain of souvenir shops.