HARVARD -- Harvard police are warning seniors of scams that have already tricked a few people out of their money.

Officer Daniele Fortunato stopped by the Harvard Senior Center last Thursday to remind seniors not to give out their personal information. She said the police receive a few fraud cases every week.

"We're getting a lot of identity fraud that encompasses different things such as phone scams or wire scams for Western Union money -- maybe overseas or to a different state," Fortunato said.

Some fraud cases can even occur through online-dating sites such as Christian Mingle.

"We had one incidence where a woman thought that she was dating a general in the military and that he was overseas and needed money to send personal items home," Fortunato said.

The woman sent money through Western Union to Africa and England, Fortunato said, although Western Union gave it back when she realized she was tricked.

Scammers also seem to be hacking into personal email accounts, Fortunato said. They find out personal information such as when the victim might be on vacation. They then send out emails to contacts, telling friends or family that they have lost their passport and need money.

Over the past few months, many Discover cards have also been compromised, she said.

"Discover Card has been taking care of them, but some of these people have been receiving phone calls for their bank information or account information and whether they're related or just a coincidence, we're not entirely sure," she said.


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The police are advising folks not to give out personal information such as full names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

Despite these fraud cases, Fortunato said that people have become more careful about giving out information over the past few years.

"Right now people are being proactive at saying, 'I'm not going to give you my account numbers' or whatever it might be," she said. "They're starting to be a little more aware."

Fortunato said everybody, not just seniors, can be the target of a scam.

But Debbie Thompson, director of the Council on Aging, said seniors are the most vulnerable part of the population.

"They're older, they're on their own in many cases," she said. "The other vulnerable portion of our population would be children, but they have parents looking out for them. The seniors do not have anybody looking out for them in the same way."

Thompson said scammers tend to act when anything new comes out through the federal government or Medicare. Now, even she is receiving threatening emails and calls about fines associated with the Affordable Care Act.

"It's a scare tactic to get you to call them up or to give them your account numbers or your information," she said.

Others at the Senior Center have received calls, too, she said.

"They haven't talked to them, thank goodness," Thompson said. "They just hang up, which is what we tell them to do."

Martha Guptill, 77, said she keeps getting calls about Lifeline, a device that she already pays for through Medicare. The call claims she is eligible for a free Lifeline.

"Oh yeah?" she said. "Nothing's free. There's always a catch."

Guptill said she usually hangs up.

Yvonne Manerson, 73, gets calls all the time about hearing aids or siding for her home.

"I hang up on a lot of them," she said. "Some of them I want to curse at, but I don't know if it's being recorded or not."

The public is advised to monitor credit reports, buy shredders to destroy sensitive information and install virus-protection software on personal computers.

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