, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

May 1, 2013

Scams against seniors on the rise

Scams targeting senior citizens are on the rise locally and police are working to educate the public of ways to not become a victim.

Some of the scams play on ones desire for extra cash while other scams hit the heart and the pocketbook by playing on the emotions of grandparents.

Port Arthur Police Det. Brian Cater has investigated a  variety of scams lately; they are divided between suspects known by the victim as well as international scams.

Check and credit or debit card scams, he said, are scams by the victims’ relatives and home health and other workers who have access to the victims personal information.

“Do not give out your personal or financial identifiers,” Cater said, adding that seniors need to keep this information secure. “And we all get mail and phone calls but if it’s something you think may be legitimate, tell them you will call them back.”

Cater suggests having credit reports performed at least once a year to see new activity.

“A lot of people don’t know there’s a problem until late down the line, then they find out when they apply for a loan and were denied because they are behind on their notes.”

Free money through sweepstakes or online lotteries as well as online auctions and secret shopper deals also fall into the category of scams.

These usually involve someone sending a check with a promise of free money. They ask you to cash the check and send them money before they can send you your winnings or pay, he said.

Some scams, such as online auctions, occur when the suspect sends a check to the victim over the amount of purchase. The suspect then asks the victim to cash the check and send the excess money back.

“You’re left holding the bag for a counterfeit check,” he said.

Pigeon drop scams that have occurred locally have involved a black male dressed nice posing as a person from South Africa. The scam artist will ask for a ride somewhere and as they are about to leave a second con artist joins in unbeknownst to the victim. The first suspect then displays a wad of cash and is told he needs to put the money in a bank.

The conversation progresses as the victim slowly gains trust in the con artist. The victim explains that it is safe to put money in a bank in this country.

“They work on a trust issue. He (suspect) convinces the victim to withdraw money from the bank,” he said. “For example the suspect might give the victim an envelope with fake money and have him walk around the building with it. Then the victim gives the suspect an envelope with the money taken from the bank and the suspects leave with the real money.”

The grandparent scam, or granny scam, plays on the hearts of the senior citizen victims. In this version the scammer will call an older person and pretend to be a grandchild who is in an unexpected situation or emergency and needs money wired.

“There is always the element of a need to hurry,” he said. “The caller doesn’t want the person to tell their “parents.” They get you to hurry and send money through a wire service and by the time you sit down and think about it and start confirming the story they already have your money.”

Cater said the con artists are really creative in how the scams evolve.

For example, one man was told his grandson was arrested in Toronto for driving while intoxicated and needed bail. Then he needed lawyer fees. The scheme evolved even more when the caller said he was wrongfully arrested and was involved in a lawsuit and later when the lawsuit was won, the caller asked for more money to send the supposed check.

“These scams play on the fact you are expecting more then what you’re putting in and also play heavily on the sympathy on relatives and grandkids,” he said.

Cater recently worked with a victim who fell for a e-mail deal offering loans, he said. The victim applied for the loan and later learned the deal was a sham originating in Singapore with a “.us” suffix that appeared to be American. The man had put all of his personal information into the loan application.

“In the last few days we have had two scams, one came back from an island off the coast of Africa and the other Singapore,” he said. “Ignore these types of e-mails and just do business with those you are used to doing business with. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”


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