Scam artists. Con men. Frauds. Call them what you will, but this ever-present threat continues to cause havoc for the elderly and other victims. Scam artists are generally nonviolent, but the pain they cause is real and lasting. They prey on trusting people who might be gullible, and those who they believe won’t put up a fight if the scammer is caught.
They often try to pass themselves off as legitimate city workers, repair persons, or handymen. These criminals target their victims in public places, at home, on the telephone, and via internet / e-mail. Provided here are several examples of this activity, as well as tips for protecting yourself and your loved ones.
The best advice is also the oldest: Beware of strangers! Be wary of strangers engaging in conversation as you exit the bank, grocery store or shopping area. Be cautious of any unsolicited stranger who offers services, such as repairs, medical assistance or financial errands. Always check references and discuss it with a family member, neighbor or trusted friend.
Residents should never let strangers into their homes under any circumstance, unless they can verify legitimacy. If residents observe any suspicious people or activity they should call law enforcement immediately. If approached by anyone on the street regarding a transaction or business arrangement, i.e., car dent repair, painting or lawn fertilizer services, construction work or residential repair, especially if they are asking for money up front, call law enforcement.
If someone comes to your door and it isn't anyone you know – be wary! Ask for a business license, contractor’s license, references, and proof of insurance. If someone approaches you in a parking lot, walk away and tell them you will call security or the police. Another good answer is, “When I am ready to do that, I will seek out a reputable local company.” If you are unsure of a family caregiver or other business person, call the police to help you verify who is "safe." It's a harmless mistake if they turn out to be legitimate.
If you are getting work done, always get a written estimate for the complete job. This is required under state law. Use reputable contractors. Ask for, and check, references. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been issued. Don’t be pressured into making a quick decision. No reputable contractor will use this tactic. If you feel you are being scammed or bullied into doing something you don’t feel is right, or if you have any questions, call law enforcement immediately.
Be on the lookout for situations to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams:
- Be cautious of strangers knocking on your front door, engaging you in a long conversation – their partner could be casing or breaking into your house from the back
- Beware of hiring strangers to work on your house - one worker may keep you talking while the other is stealing from you
- Always check caregiver credentials carefully - run a criminal background check or ask agencies to provide you with a copy of the actual report
- Be wary of a caregiver who enters into an inappropriate relationship with an elderly loved one
- Be wary of a caregiver who tries to isolate your loved one - if you suddenly can't reach your loved one on the telephone
- Beware of fortune telling scams - where you or your loved one is told that "evil" is close – but could be stopped with help from a nomadic criminal
- Beware of strangers telling you their car has broken down - either knocking on your door and asking for your help or approaching you in a parking lot