Every day in every way, North Georgia’s elderly citizens are targeted with scams involving large amounts of money– often draining life savings. The heartless scam artists are from near and far and are professional thieves specializing in financial fraud. Meanwhile, embarrassed frightened elderly victims only notify the police or social services of about one in 25 cases of fraud. But when they do, the police have growing success rates of capturing suspects and recovering stolen funds.  

Recently in one North Georgia county local police, along with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, arrested three men for exploiting a 92-year-old female victim out of $118,000 using what is commonly known as the “Home Repair Scam.” The suspects cut down eight trees, which they left on the ground in the victim’s yard and charged her $118,000 which she paid before anyone realized something was wrong.  

In a nearby county, Sheriff’s deputies intervened in a scam in which an elderly male victim was tricked into believing his computer had been hijacked and locked, and he would have to pay a ransom of $26,000 to regain access.  The victim was close to falling for a variation of what is commonly known as the “Computer Scam” however, after the victim wired the funds, he realized he was being scammed and notified the Sheriff’s Office. Acting quickly, deputies working with the U.S. Secret Service were able to stop the transaction and recover most of the elderly victim’s money. 

In another case, a rural North Georgia county judge was contacted early one morning by a 75-year-old woman who had fallen victim to an “Arrest Scam.” She had been deceived into believing she would be immediately arrested unless she paid $60,000. she allegedly owed.  Shortly after she sent a wire for $60,000, the victim realized she had become the victim of a fraud she notified a judge who was a family friend. He immediately initiated a series of law enforcement contacts that were ultimately able to intervene and recover all of the victim’s funds.  

The casual observer of fraud cases may question: “How could the victims fall for such things?” The answer is simple; because of their advanced age, many trusting elderly victims are often isolated and privately lonely.  Many have outlived their family and friends, and they often suffer from failing health for which they take medications that temporarily cloud their judgement. They are, by definition special victims; trusting and highly prone to fall victim to smooth, practiced, scripted professional con men who exploit them. Many victims also report that they are made to feel intimidated. Clearly, the suspects do not want to give the victim time to think the situation through or consult with others before dispersing the money.  

The best way to counter fraud against the elderly is through public education focused on current trends. There are many names, kinds and variations of all of scams, but the ones most recently seen by law enforcement include the following: 

  1. Home Repair Scam – The victim hires a stranger(s) to perform work on their y home or yard without competitive estimates or written agreement.  The work is either not completed or partially completed and the victim is grossly over-charged for as much as the scammers think they can get from intimidated elderly victims.  A common variation of this scam involves an offer to spread pine straw in the victim’s yard. 
  2. Romance ScamScammers create false online profiles on social media websites, including dating sites,  where they quickly develop online relationships. They are charming and smitten with the victim and profess their love very quickly, even though they have never actually met the victim. They claim to be living, travelling or working at distant locations in order to explain why they can’t meet in person right away. They eventually make up stories about how they urgently need money for emergencies, hospital bills or plane tickets to finally meet the victim – and ask for money that must be wired to them. The money disappears and so does the new romantic partner.
  3. Computer ScamWhile online on their computer, the victim is told their computer has been hijacked or locked and they need to pay a ransom to regain control of it.  Having heard of it happening to businesses or governments, the victim panics and does not check to see if their computer is actually locked, they pay the ransom and are afraid to touch their computer until they are told it is clear.  They usually do not hear back from the elusive suspect(s).  
  4. Jury Duty or Arrest ScamUsually by a phone call, the victim is told there is a warrant for their arrest for unpaid fines or failing to show for jury duty.  They are also told the police or sheriff are on their way to arrest them.  The victim panics and asks if there is any way to avoid being arrested.  The suspect in turn tells them if they pay their fine or fee immediately, often with gift cards, they can avoid being arrested. They are eager to pay rather than being arrested and once their money is gone, it is never seen again. 

The North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force recommends simple tips for seniors to avoid most scams: 

  1. 1. Don’t answer the phone if it is a number you don’t know; 2.  Don’t pay with cash cards or gift cards; 3. Don’t pay money to get money; 4. Don’t let strangers in your home; 5.  Law enforcement does not call ahead to tell you they are coming to arrest you; 6.  You can’t win any form of sweepstakes, lottery or raffle if you didn’t play; 7. Don’t give out bank or financial information to callers; 8. Don’t click on unknown attachments to e-mails; and 9. Don’t send money to a person you haven’t met, especially if it involves a romantic relationship.

 

Dan Flynn was the police chief of both Marietta and Savannah during his law enforcement career.   

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