DOUGLAS COUNTY – As our weather gets warmer criminals travel up from southern states to victimize older adults. These criminals specialize in financial exploitation scams 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. 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.
Some of the traveling scams and how to avoid them:
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 the city. 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 the 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 front 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 you 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 than 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 than 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 city and paying taxes? If you need work done, check with a friend or neighbor who you trust before doing the work. Ask them who they have used and were satisfied with in the past. Call the city to see if the person is properly registered and paying taxes.
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 will always flatter the victim. 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. I have seen this scam perpetrated before, and guys, I have to say, the attention from this younger woman is great while it is happening, but as soon as your credit cards are charged to the max and your money is completely gone, so are they. You will be left lonely and broke. Think about it ahead of time and make a good decision.