Although South Russell sees a lower activity level than surrounding communities, South Russell Police Department recently hosted a seminar about the most common scams targeting seniors, including fraud and scam calls.
The event saw guests of all ages. Officer John Zippay said that, while scammers like to take advantage of seniors, scams targeting 18- to 24-year-olds are on the rise.
“A society will be judged by how we treat our children and our seniors,” he said. While the Geauga County Department on Aging offers a host of resources to local seniors, law enforcement works to protect them from becoming victims.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad apples in the world – overseas, in other countries, locally – that prey on and take advantage of seniors,” he said.
Mr. Zippay said that seniors are targeted in scams because some are not up to speed with technology. Also, they were raised to be polite and trusting. Often, they have a “nest egg” and own their homes. They are less likely to report the incident.
Seniors are most commonly targeted through a range of phone and Internet scams, including imposter scams and romance scams.
In an imposter scam, scammers will pretend to be an authority figure, including police or the IRS, in order to take advantage of a recipient. Callers sometimes claim to be the police with a warrant for the recipient’s arrest, asking them to pay their bond in gift cards.
“Trust me, we won’t call ahead,” Chief Rizzo joked. “No governmental agency will ever ask for payment in Target gift cards.”
One of the most reported scams is the grandparent scam, where scammers impersonate younger relatives, pretend they are in a bind and ask for bail money. The elderly are targeted in these scams because they often have large families.
Three years ago, a resident was defrauded out of $11,000 by a scammer she met on the dating site Match.com, Mr. Zippay said.
Mr. Zippay said anyone who receives a scam call should never pick up. If they pick up by accident, they should disconnect and let others – including the police department and neighbors – know.
Only about 10% of scam victims call to report the incident, he said.
“People that get scammed or have problems in this manner sometimes are afraid to call us, and I don’t understand why,” Chief Rizzo said. “They say sometimes, ‘We don’t want to bother you.’ Please, it’s our job to be here for you. This is why we have a team of officers to respond to calls and take care of these matters.”
He said that residents should not hesitate to call with any problem, from a suspected scam to a barking dog, and should never feel they are bothering police.
Mr. Zippay said that calling to alert police of a scam extends beyond the caller’s well-being. It could help spread awareness for other residents’ safety.
With the Internet, officers can quickly determine if residents are being targeted by a popular scam.
Mr. Zippay said that officers will encourage extra steps if a resident calls about identity fraud, including an identity theft affidavit that will be forwarded to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to restore their identity.
Officers gave solutions for those who find themselves targeted by a scam, according to the Better Business Bureau, such as filing a police report to creating a paper trail or joining a “Do Not Call” registry. The BBB also recommended calling the phone company to block the 876 area code from Jamaica. The U.S. does not have jurisdiction in Jamaica, making the elderly easy targets for scammers from that country.
In South Russell, scam calls are normally taken by Detective Michael Kleinknecht. He has traced scams to places such as China, Nigeria, Europe and Jamaica.
Officers said that being asked to wire or transfer funds or buy gift cards are red flags. They also advise being careful on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. It is also a red flag and time to disconnect if the caller urges secrecy about the phone call or says, “Don’t tell anyone.”
When Mr. Zippay asked how many attendees had experienced a scam themselves, two raised their hands.
Anna Siergiej, who works at a local restaurant, said that she recently received an unsolicited package with three pieces of cut-up cardboard inside along with several other packages that she had ordered through Amazon. She learned the incident, which she reported to Chief Rizzo, is an example of “brushing,” a tactic e-sellers use to boost their ratings through fake orders.
Ms. Siergiej said that she did not lose anything as far as she knows, but she still took security measures by changing passwords and making sure her Amazon account was not compromised.
Mr. Zippay said that it is also important to research a charity before donating. Councilman Dennis Galicki, also in attendance, suggested using a website, CharityNavigator.org, that shows how much of a charity’s income goes to administrative costs.
“You’d be surprised at how many are very top heavy, and how much they give to their employees, but not to the individuals that they’re supposed to represent,” Mr. Galicki said.
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