Sen. Kelly: CT must be “constantly vigilant” on senior scams

August 20, 2023

Tong battles senior scams

Connecticut AG shares how his own mother became a victim


Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is on a crusade.

In a world of scams, he wants to make sure that senior citizens don’t get ripped off.

He recently told Wethersfield senior citizens the story about a sophisticated elderly woman who spent years involved in various business deals in a restaurant and real estate but still got scammed.

That woman was Tong’s mother.

“If you met my mom, you won’t meet a tougher immigrant business lady,” Tong told senior citizens as he described his family’s history. “She’s tough as nails. She and my dad went through so much to get here, running from the Japanese and the communists in China. They went to Taiwan, and they ended up of all places in Hartford, Connecticut, because my grandfather got a job working at [gunmaker] Colt as a ballistics engineer.”

After the family’s Chinese restaurant became successful, they used the money to buy some apartments and got into the real estate business.
“No one is tougher and savvier than Nancy Tong, and you wouldn’t expect to get anything by her,” her son said. “One day she gets an email from a guy that says, ‘I want to rent one of your apartments, and I’m in England, but can I send you a check?’ She says, ‘Sure you can send me a check for the security deposit.’ So he sends her a check. Great. She opens up the envelope, and it’s for too much money. So she emails the guy, and says, ‘You sent me way too much money.’ And the guy says, ‘I must have gotten confused. Why don’t you deposit the check and wire me the difference?’ My mom is the savviest, toughest immigrant business lady you will ever meet. But what did she do? She wired the guy $5,000. The check was a bad check. This is a common scam. It’s called the overpayment scam.”

Even with years of experience, Nancy Tong, now 73, still fell for the ruse — in the same way as adults of all ages.

“I tell you this story because nobody is immune — even my mom,” Tong said. “All of us are vulnerable to getting scammed.”

Elder justice hotline

As attorney general, Tong oversees an influential office with about 200 attorneys with a wide variety of expertise on multiple topics.

To coordinate on the large number of scams, he joined with other commissioners and established the Elder Justice Hotline two years ago as a “one-stop shop” to seek help for problems, including physical abuse, exploitation, neglect, and age discrimination for those working in their later years.

The hotline number, at 860-808-5555, lets callers can speak to a live representative during the work day. At other times, consumers can leave a message.

Online information is available at

The hotline can link consumers to multiple state departments, including consumer protection, banking, mental health, and aging and disability services, among others. Cases of abuse are sent to the state social services department.

Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly says scams are a seven-days-a-week industry that he follows not only as a legislator but also at his Stratford law firm as an eldercare attorney.

“The scam industry is constantly evolving — just as technology evolves,” Kelly said in an interview. “As they evolve, so, too, must government’s response. This is something you’ve go to be constantly vigilant on. You need to have your eyes and ears out. They are sophisticated predators.”

Those who let their guard down can be particularly vulnerable when they are not paying attention.

“It can catch people who are on their game,” said Kelly, whose grandmother lived to age 99. “What about people who are not on their game? … It’s every aspect — phone, text, email, U.S. mail, people who come to the door.”

Romance scams

While loneliness has always been an issue, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem of isolation for the elderly who were essentially trapped in their houses and apartments with few visitors.

The isolation can lead to other problems for the elderly, including the largest scam for people over age 60.

“The number one scam is the romance scam,” Tong said. “That always gets a chuckle. It’s really easy if you’re a scammer to figure out who’s alone. Right? If you look on Facebook and Instagram, because that’s how you stay in touch with longtime friends, if you get divorced, you go out there and you tell everybody. … Scammers now know that you’re alone.”
The scenario often has the same general parameters of a person overseas who is available online.

“Usually, it’s Giovanni in Italy. There’s a picture of him,” Tong said. “It can take a long time for this to develop. They’ll profess that you’re their soulmate. They’ve never met anybody like you before. Then the moment of truth is when they’re supposed to get on a plane and come see you. … Now you’ve waited a year or two. You’ve been alone because you got divorced or lost your spouse. Now they’re going to come see you. … Two weeks before they’re supposed to come, you get a message that mom is really sick. She’s in the hospital. In our country, I’ve got to pay cash. I’ve got to take care of mom before I come see you. But if I only had $20,000, I could come see you and make my flight. That’s when people get scammed. They wire $20,000. … We’ve seen cases with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Millions of dollars.”

Tong’s cautionary advice is: “It’s OK to find love online. Just be careful.”

Kelly agreed, saying many of the elderly become more lonely as the years go by.

“It’s more and more difficult to meet new friends,” Kelly said. “Somebody who is isolated, can’t drive and is stuck in the house becomes lonely. … The romance scam — they’re isolated. They’re at home. They don’t have anything to do. They know they can get on the web, and there you are.”

Protecting yourself

One of the best ways to avoid becoming entangled in a long-running scam is to simply avoid it in the first place.

While many elderly consumers have decades-long habits of not wanting to miss an important telephone call on their landline, Tong says flatly: do not answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number on the caller ID. In addition, don’t try to outsmart the scammer.

“They’re working some kind of scam, even while you’re talking,” Tong said. “Nowadays, they can record your voice and use computer technology to manipulate your voice.”

Targeting elderly

Like in other cases, it’s all about the money.

While there are a variety of reasons to target the elderly, the financial incentive is the biggest.

“People might be more often at home. They’re less mobile,” Tong told the senior citizens. “People like human contact. Here’s the big reason. You have money. That’s why they want to target you. Don’t think it’s because you’re older. It’s because you have cash.”

In a local case, Tong told the story of a Hartford-area man who had trouble with his computer, looked online, and found a repair shop to fix his computer for $300. Then the computer company called him back and said they were trying to get new customers and asked for a recommendation in exchange for a full refund.

“Who doesn’t want $300?” Tong said. “He gives them his bank account information and personal information. They sent him his $300 back. Then they say we mistakenly wired you $20,000 on top of the 300 bucks. He goes and checks his bank account. Sure enough, in his checking account, was $20,000. So he sends them the 20 grand. What happened? They got access to his bank accounts. They took 20 grand from his savings and transferred it to his checking and it looked like somebody had just put 20 grand in his checking. This is a real story. It happened in the Hartford area. Be careful.”

He added, “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do business on the internet. All of us do. Every day.”

Regarding the payment apps like Venmo and PayPal, Tong said, “Some advice about that: yes, you should use those apps if they’re convenient. Just be careful. … These online payment apps are not banks. They’re not FDIC-insured. If you get scammed, you’re going to be out of luck.”


Due partly to embarrassment, only one in 44 financial abuse cases are reported, officials said.

“Financial abuse — it often happens from a close family member — husband, son, daughter, wife, niece, nephew, close acquaintance, caregivers,” Tong said. “It very often involves someone who lost their job and they say, ‘Mom, can you give me $5,000 from your savings to help me pay the rent and live for a couple of months? When I get a new job, I’ll pay you back.’ But five grand becomes 10 grand and then 20 grand and then becomes your savings. This happens all the time.”

Kelly agreed that a big problem is embarrassment — leading to a lack of reporting the scams to authorities.

“It’s more widespread than the general public would like to admit,” Kelly said. “Once it happens, many of the individuals are ashamed to admit that it did happen to them, and they just eat the cost. They feel they’ve been duped. They don’t want to let anyone know.”

But even those who are savvy and vigilant can still be roped into a ruse.

“Scammers target all of us,” Tong said. “No one is immune, including me and my family.”