Scam, Bam, Thank You Ma’am


Senior citizens can be fraud victims in their homes, cars, churches or social clubs.

When he was a teenager, Justin Ray White traveled around the country with his father as part of a nation-wide band of con artists called “travelers.” Now an inmate in the Idaho state prison, White relates how his father would have him roll down his truck window to listen to how his dad would talk to elderly people so the boy could “pick up pointers about how to hustle them.” webuyhousessaltlake

The multi-million-dollar racket: door-to door home repairs such as roofing, painting, asphalt paving, termite spraying. White’s advice after his life of crime: “Never hire anyone to do work for you that shows up on your doorstep. They are there to steal your money.” Other warning signs of a traveler, says White, are contractors whose pickup trucks have no license plates; sellfastarkansas who offer a discount because they have “left over materials from another job;” or who insist on being paid in cash or having the customer go to the bank to write a check to be cashed immediately.

Preventative medicine, says White, is to scatter a few toys in your front yard, “so it doesn’t look like old people live there. . .just a couple of these is enough to throw a traveler off.”

Safe at Home? sellahousefastohio

But not all crooks come in the front door. Other “portals” for the con artist are through your telephone and your computer.

According to the Social Security Administration, telemarketing fraud is a multi-billion dollar business, and seniors are “special targets.” Scams offered over the phone include prize offers, travel packages, vitamins and health products, investments and charities.

Tip-offs to phone fraud:

“You must act now or the offer is no good.” nevadacashoffer

You’ve won a “free” prize but you must pay “handling” or other charges.

You’re pressured to make a decision without written documents, or getting advice from your family, lawyer, or Better Business Bureau.

The telemarketer is a stranger who asks for a credit card, bank account number, or for a courier to come to your home to pick up a check.

The solution? Simply say “Take me off your call list,” and hang up. However, don’t depend on the Federal Trade Commission’s national “do not call list” to protect you from con artists. “Some are simply ignoring it and counting on the fact that they’ll be gone before the FTC can respond,” cautions James Walsh, author of books on risk and personal finance for consumers.

The Internal Revenue Service last year issued a warning to families of those serving in the Armed Forces. A telephone caller posing as an IRS employee will call a family member, telling him that he is entitled to a $4000 tax refund because his relative is in the military. All that is necessary for processing the check, says the caller, is a credit card number to cover the $42 postage and handling fee. The caller will provide a legitimate IRS telephone number, but by the time the victim discovers the scam, the scammer has racked up major purchases with the credit card number.

Crooks will also try to get at an elderly person’s money through email. One of the most popular-and enduring-email con games is the “Nigerian scam.” The letter looks innocent enough, coming supposedly from a Nigerian lawyer (or banker or pastor) who enlists the email recipient’s help in getting millions of dollars out of the country. It asks for private information, like phone numbers and bank account numbers, purportedly to help keep the money “safe” in the United States. In exchange, the money’s “host” will get a hefty percentage of the cash. According to U. S. Senator Larry Craig-who has himself received such an email– two years ago a Boise, Idaho man who lost $11,000 in this scam went to Nigeria as part of the scheme, where he was kidnapped and had to pay a $3000 bribe to his captors. Another man, not so lucky, was murdered in Nigeria as the result of a similar scam. Cashforhousesillinois

Peril on the Streets

James Quiggle, Director of Communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, says that crime rings target senior citizens, looking on city streets for elderly motorists they can involve in “staged” accidents. “As the fraud artists see it, seniors drive slower, they’re less alert to setups on the road,” says Quiggle. “They’ll panic and forget details at the crash scene, and can be easily intimidated.”

Quiggle advises three tactics:

1) Keep on the lookout for an older car that seems to be “shadowing” you

2) Don’t tailgate. “Many crooks try to lure you into a rear-ender,” says Quiggle.

3) Keep a disposable camera in your glove compartment so you can document what really happened at the scene of any auto accident. Patriotcashoffer

Crime Among Friends

James Walsh, author of You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (Silver Lake Publishing), emphasizes that senior citizens — who in our modern society often live alone and have money available in pension or retirement funds –are particularly vulnerable to financial scams. Crooks know that, and according to Walsh, they customize their pitches to fears about current events.

“In the wake of the Enron and Tyco corporate accounting scandals, I noticed a number of ‘investment seminars’ being promoted in Southern California that promised to show how to take advantage of the Wall Street turmoil and ‘reap big profits,’” says Walsh, who says scammers use financial planning and investment seminars to recruit victims. “So I suspect some of these seminars were crooked.”

Walsh’s advice: “In general, stay away from any investment which ‘guarantees’ big ‘risk-free’ profits–25 percent per year is often the starting point, and the promises go up from there. There are big profits to be made in a capitalist economy–but bigger profits always mean bigger risk, and no guarantees.”

Con artists also know greed is not the only emotion that fuels their scams: Fear, loneliness, and other “negative” feelings make the scams against a senior citizen work. But sometimes scammers play off positive, healthy qualities, like friendship, loyalty, and patriotism.

Walsh says these investment-scheme “perps” are also good at insinuating themselves into groups–social, church-based, professional–where trust is assumed. “Retirees should be wary of mixing business with pleasure,” cautions Walsh. “They should think twice about putting their money with anyone they meet socially. A good response to any offers of big profits is, ‘No thanks, my money is all committed to an investment plan I set several years ago.’” Walsh says the scam artist, who is looking for hesitation and indecision, will usually move on to another prospect when they get a firm, no-quarter-given response like that.

Frank W. Abagnale, the con-artist-turned-crime-consultant whose life was portrayed in the recent movie, Catch Me if You Can, cites a prevalent and effective scam that has been working well for 40 years; one that requires no technology, just a helpful, civic-minded senior citizen.

Abagnale describes the scenario.

“Two men sit outside a savings bank looking for an elderly woman departing the bank.  They follow her to her home, ring the bell and identify themselves as FBI agents.  They say they are investigating the bank that she banks at because they believe one of the tellers is embezzling money.  The government is asking for her help in catching this embezzler.

 


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