Eric Schmitt speaks to senior citizens

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks to senior citizens about how to protect themselves from potential scams Tuesday at Solstice Senior Living. This is part of a statewide tour to educate citizens on how to avoid falling victim to scams.

Scam artists are becoming more sophisticated. That's what Attorney General Eric Schmitt told a room of senior citizens Tuesday afternoon at Solstice Senior Living.

Reports of abuse to the Missouri Adult Abuse and Neglect Hotline have gone up by 35% over the last decade, and financial exploitation is the second most common kind of report, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Scammers have developed their hustles to target specific age groups, including elders, Schmitt said.

Schmitt focused primarily on telephone scams, online phishing scams, mail fraud and door-to-door cons. He also warned Solstice residents about the so-called “grandparents scam,” which uses emotional distress to coerce the victim into paying, typically by fabricating a distressing story about a relative or loved one, or outright posing as one.

Columbia is the second of four stops Schmitt will make to discuss scams aimed at senior citizens. He also visited St. Louis on Monday and will be stopping in Jefferson City and Cape Girardeau on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

Even though they cast a wide net, scammers are capable of targeting their cons to maximize their efficacy. One hustle is currently using the Boone County Sheriff’s Department’s phone number in order to scam victims out of their banking information, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The attorney general’s office often partners with federal agencies to tackle multijurisdictional cases. In March, $30 million in cash and assets were secured in a sweepstakes scam run out of Kansas City. The investigation was a joint effort with the Federal Trade Commission and marked the largest forfeiture the FTC has ever secured, according to a news release.

The attorney general’s office has been able to recover and return about $10 million in scam money in 2019, Schmitt said.

The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit has also secured about $5 million and 19 convictions since January, Schmitt said.

The attorney general’s office also has investigators working on intercepting home improvement schemes, Schmitt said. In these situations, scammers will offer to do work on the victim’s house for an upfront payment, then walk without fulfilling their end of the bargain.

Schmitt said he is confident in the team the attorney general’s office has built to tackle scams and fraud.

“We’ve got a great group right now,” he said. “They stay plenty busy, and we follow the leads wherever they go.”

Scams can be reported via the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222 or via the attorney general’s online consumer complaint portal.

  • I'm a Public Safety & Health beat reporter at the Columbia Missourian, with past lives as a data scientist, academic researcher and defense contractor. You can reach me at spencernorris@mail.missouri.edu.

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