Austin County Sheriff
As the number of elderly increases, so too does the number of crimes committed against them. This is particularly true of financial exploitation scams, which are routinely perpetrated against senior citizens. According to the National Association of Adult Protective Services Administrators, financial exploitation of the elderly is the fastest rising category of crime across the country and has increased by 60.4% over the last seven years! It is not by chance that the elderly are victimized so often. There are groups and individuals who specifically target elderly persons. Many of these are referred to as traveling criminals, or those who move from one place to another, constantly seeking elderly victims on which to perpetrate their scams and crimes.
FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION CRIMES AGAINST THE ELDERLY
Deputy Chief John Livingood
Abington, Pennsylvania Police Department
FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION CRIMES AGAINST THE ELDERLY
Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country in the number of elderly but has the second highest percentage of older people with 2.5 million over 60 years of age. Only Florida has a higher
percentage of older persons. Nationally, the 65+ population is expected to double between 1989 and 2030. The number of Pennsylvanians age 85+ will increase 73% by the year 2010!
As the number of elderly increases, so too does the number of crimes committed against them. This is particularly true of financial exploitation scams, which are routinely perpetrated against
senior citizens. According to the National Association of Adult Protective Services Administrators, financial exploitation of the elderly is the fastest rising category of crime across
the country and has increased by 60.4% over the last seven years! It is not by chance that the elderly are victimized so often. There are groups and individuals who specifically target elderly
persons. Many of these are referred to as traveling criminals, or those who move from one place to another, constantly seeking elderly victims on which to perpetrate their scams and crimes.
Don't be a victim! Don't allow a friend, neighbor, or loved one to fall victim to them either.
Learn more about the scams that are being committed and how one can keep from being victimized.
Utility Imposter Scams
One or two men knock on your door and say they are from the water company, electric company, the cable company or perhaps the Township. They will do one of two things. Either they will try to convince you to accompany them to your basement or out into your backyard, at your property line. They may explain that they need to test your water pressure, electricity, or determine where your property line is. They may tell you that their company regulations do not allow them to enter your basement unaccompanied. Once in the basement they may have you turn switches off and on, run water, or bang on pipes. Their sole purpose is to keep you occupied while they notify another, unseen accomplice that the coast is clear and that they should go in and search your house for valuables.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: Legitimate utility Company employees will wear a uniform and will have official identification. Don't be fooled because the person knocking on your door is wearing a laminated badge. Many imposters will have a homemade, laminated, badge that you could confuse for proper I.D. at a quick glance. They may also wear work clothes, orange traffic vests, or hard hats. All of this is designed to make you think they are official. Ask to examine the I.D. Don't let them in your house and don't let them lure you out of yours. If in doubt, ask them to wait outside your locked door while you call the utility company or the police to verify who they are. A legitimate utility company employee will welcome your checking them out, while an imposter won't hang around long enough to find out the answer. The police will be more than happy to stop by and verify who they are and why they are there.
Driveway sealing or home repair scam. One or two men in a truck stop and offer to seal your driveway, fix your roof, or do some other repairs at an unusually low price. Many times they will say they were working in the area or maybe they had extra materials left over and therefore, can do your job very cheaply. Typically, they will say that they will do it even cheaper if they are paid in cash. The job is often poorly done with inferior materials used. When finished, the final price is frequently much higher then the original estimate. If the victim balks at this price the traveling criminals will sometimes get loud and intimidating. Eventually they will accept less then they first demanded but much more then the original estimate. Finally, if you pay them in cash, they now know that you have cash in the house and they saw where in the house you went to get it. Many times there will be a return visit, maybe in the form of a utility scam to get the cash. Sometimes the person doing this work will have his young children and perhaps his wife along. The children may ask for a drink or to use the bathroom. Many have been trained to search your home for cash/jewelry or to keep you occupied while their Father or Mother does this. This is true even with very young children.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: NEVER, EVER, Keep large sums of cash in your house.Pay all bills by check or credit card, never by cash. If someone is offering a deal that is too good to be true, it probably is. You should ask yourself; why would anyone have extra material? Anyone who offers to do work cheaper for cash should be avoided. Don't employ or accept services from anyone who knocks on your door or comes around soliciting you. Rely on local workers with a reputation in the community. Do they have references you can check before using them? Are they in the Yellow Pages? Do they have a local, verifiable address? Are they registered with the township and paying taxes? If you need work done, check with a friend or neighbor who you trust. Ask them who they have used and were satisfied with in the past. Call the Township to see if the trade's person is properly registered and paying taxes.
The Grandchild in Distress
The victim gets a phone call from someone who states that they are a friend of the victim's grandchild (or some other relative). The person relates that the grandchild has been arrested and needs bail money or has bounced a check and needs to repay the debt. They say that the grandchild has asked them to stop by and pick up the money to take it to the grandchild.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: Don't accept anyone's word that they are acting on behalf of your grandchild or other family member. Don't give money to anyone who claims to be acting on behalf of them. Insist on speaking to your family member. No one is held incommunicado and if your family member really needs money, they should be able to talk to you directly. In this case, make sure it is actually them.
The Pigeon Drop
This is a scam where the victim is approached by someone who claims to have found a large amount of money. Often there will be a note with the money indicating that it is the proceeds from a crime. A second person (an accomplice of the first) will join them and get involved in the conversation. This person will offer that their boss works nearby and will know what to do with the money. The third person will enter a building and return after talking to her boss. She reports that her boss said they could keep and split the money but that they will have to put up good faith money of their own in case a later claim is made. The victim will be taken to his or her bank and will be instructed to withdraw a large sum of money. After turning this money over, they are instructed to go into the same building to get their share of money from the boss. Inside, they can't find this person and when they come back outside, the other two and their good faith money are gone.
Stop Back as a Police Officer
This scam is generally perpetrated on the victim of a pigeon drop. The suspects will go to the victim's house claiming to be police officers investigating the original crime.Sometimes they will even have the original suspect in handcuffs. The victim is told that her assistance is needed in apprehending other suspects involved in the theft. She is instructed to do this by withdrawing (and giving to them) whatever money she has left in the bank.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: Be aware of someone who tells you they have found money and want to share it. Be aware of someone who wants to hold your money, even for just a little while. Remember, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. The old adage that you can't get something for nothing is true with these types of scams. Don't be fooled! If you are a victim make sure that you report it and that you are really dealing with the Police in the investigation. No police agency would ever ask you to withdraw money and turn it over to them.
The victim gets a call from someone claiming to be an official from their bank or an FBI Agent or police officer. They are told that police suspect that someone in the bank has been stealing money and they need the victim's help in catching this person. The victim is instructed to withdraw a sum of money and meet the official at a location. Once there, the official will take the money and will give the victim a receipt for it. Sometimes the reason given is so that police can check the money for counterfeit bills. Sometimes they will ask for your account number and personal information and directly withdraw money.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: Never give out your financial or personal information over the phone. Banks will never call and ask you for this type of information. Neither banks nor any law enforcement agency would ever ask you to make a withdrawal from your account as part of an investigation.
A senior citizen is contacted by telephone and harassed into sending large sums of money for items they don't want or need. In some cases, they are told they have won a huge sum in a lottery but must send a large sum of money to pay the tax on it. Often this is a lottery from a foreign country.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: It is never a good idea to purchase items or services from someone who solicits you on the phone. If you need something, buy it from someone that you or a friend has been satisfied with in the past. Also, there is no lottery that requires someone to send in money before they can collect their winnings. Never agree to send money, in any form (check, credit card number, or cash) ahead of time.
The victim is approached by someone who displays a supposedly winning lottery ticket of great value. The person with the ticket will offer to sell it to the victim for much less than it is worth. The reason given is that they are usually illegal aliens and cannot cash it themselves. After the victim buys the ticket and the seller(s) is gone, closer examination reveals that the ticket is actually worthless.
Sweetheart Swindle/Take Over
This is often perpetrated on males but can be done on either sex. The victim is approached, sometimes in a supermarket parking lot, by a younger female. They may need some minor assistance but will always flatter the suspect. If they are able to engage the victim in conversation they will arrange to meet again, eventually developing a relationship. During this relationship, they will ask the victim for money to start a business or pay medical bills. Sometimes they will even move in with the victim and take over their affairs. The elderly without family are most vulnerable to this scam.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: Be aware that there may be an ulterior motive when someone attempts to strike up a relationship with you out of the blue. Be careful if someone is too friendly, overly flattering, or seems to be paying you an undue amount of attention. Ask a family member, trusted friend or advisor for their honest opinion on what is occurring.
The persons who commit these crimes are almost always two or three females. One will knock on the door of an elderly person or approach them as they are gardening. They will use a number of ruses to get into the victim's house, including saying that they have a package to deliver to a neighbor who isn't home and need pencil & paper to leave a note. Sometimes one of them is sick and needs a drink of water. The whole purpose of the ruse is to get into the victim's house. Once there, one will distract the victim, sometimes holding a table cloth up in front of them, while the other searches (undetected) the house for valuables.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: Don't allow any stranger into your home! Also, do not allow yourself to be distracted outside which would allow an accomplice to sneak in and steal your property. If you are working outside of your home, even for a few minutes, lock your door!
Faith Healers/Fortune Tellers/Psychic Readers
The victim is told that they can be cured for a large sum of money, which is ceremoniously blessed and kept by the criminal committing the crime. In the case of fortunetellers or psychic readers, the victim is often told that money is at the root of their problems and their money must be cleansed. The victim is instructed to entrust their money with the criminal so that they can somehow cleanse it to remove the curse. This will supposedly make all of the victim's problems disappear. Unfortunately, the only thing that disappears is the victim's money.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: There is no magic in this world and nobody has the power to heal or make one's problems disappear. This is particularly true when this is being done for money. Don't fall victim to such false claims.
South African - Handkerchief Switch
The victim is approached, perhaps in a supermarket parking lot, by a well-dressed individual who needs help. The suspect will explain to the victim that he is from South Africa and has inherited a large sum of money or has received it as the result of an insurance settlement. He goes on to say that he has to return to South Africa and that law forbids him bringing money back into the country. Therefore, he is looking for a charity or church to give the money to. The suspect offers to give it to the victim for her church or charity but wants her to post good faith money to show that she won't pocket the money. The victim is taken to a bank where they withdraw a large sum and the suspect places it and the money to be donated in a prayer cloth (handkerchief) and they pray over it. The suspect performs a sleight of hand switch and the victim finds after the suspect is dropped off that the prayer cloth only contains newspaper. A recent twist on this scam is for the suspect to tell the victim that he has a large sum of money but doesn't trust or understand banks. He wants the victim to demonstrate that money can be withdrawn from a bank after it is put in. This can be via a money access card (MAC) or traditional withdrawal. In either case, the end result is the same.
How to Avoid Being a Victim: Be suspicious of anyone asking you to withdraw money from your bank account. Be suspicious of anyone who wants to bless your money or perform some secret ritual over it. Never, ever put up any money of your own to share in proceeds that someone is offering. Remember, Nobody gets something for nothing. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
These are but a few of the many scams that have been repeatedly perpetrated against our senior citizens. There are many reasons why a person becomes victimized by a scam. Often it is because of naiveté, compassion, misunderstanding, or their willingness to help others. Sometimes it is because of the victim's interest in helping law enforcement. After crimes do occur, we know that many elderly persons fail to report them. Reasons given for not reporting them include embarrassment; self-doubt; a fear of losing their independence, and others. The people who commit these crimes count on victims not reporting them. If you do become a victim
- REPORT IT TO POLICE IMMEDIATELY.Help us catch these crooks before they do it to someone else. Sometimes, but not always, in doing so, we may be lucky enough to get your money back. One thing we know for sure is that these swindlers all seem to have the uncanny ability to persuade a seemingly competent person into participating in their swindle. Remember - Many confidence crimes begin with Can you help me?” Consumers lose millions of dollars each year to con artists. Many scams involve the withdrawal of large amounts of cash from the customer’s account. Before you withdraw your money, ask yourself the following questions to see if you have been or might be a victim of a con game:
*Has a stranger asked you to withdraw your money for any reason?
*Has a stranger asked you to put up “good faith” money in order to share in unexpectedly found cash or valuables?
*Has someone told you that you need home repairs and then demanded an immediate cash payment?
*Have you received a telephone call or visit from a person claiming to be a bank examiner or employee of a federal agency, who claims to need your help in trapping a teller who may have been withdrawing money from your account?
*Has anyone offered to “bless your money,” remove a curse from it, or perform a ritual, which will cause it to double in value?
If you have answered “YES” to any of these questions, the chances are good that you are being swindled.
Swindlers are nearly always friendly and have honest faces or pleasant authoritative voices. This is how they gain your trust.
If you feel you need immediate police assistance, call 9-1-1.
FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION CRIMES AGAINST THE ELDERLY
Prepared by Abington Township Police Department Detective Division with assistance from the following agencies:
1. Philadelphia Police Department major Crimes Division - Crimes Against Retired and Elderly (C.A.R.E.) Unit. 3900 Lancaster Avenue, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA
2. The National Association of Bunco Investigators, Inc. (NABI) P.O. Box 287 Maryland Line, Maryland 21105
3. Middle Atlantic - Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN) 140 Terry Drive, Suite 100 Newtown, Pennsylvania 18940