Protecting Senior Communities from Scams & Frauds

Con schemes are at an all-time high, and con artists are taking direct aim at senior citizens.

According to a 2016 report, 16 million dollars was stolen in scams from 5.4 million U.S. citizens.  Further, 60 percent of all callers to the National Fraud Information Center are seniors.  The report also states that 67 percent of U.S. seniors have had their computers hacked or have fallen victim to an online scam.

Con artists target seniors for several reasons.  Firstly, seniors often have saved or invested their money wisely over the years and usually have expendable cash.  Many of their homes are owned free and clear or have a considerable amount of equity in them.  Many seniors live alone, especially after the loss of a spouse.  For that reason, they may often welcome the company of someone who seems to genuinely care for them.  And lastly, seniors are targeted because they were raised in an era when being courteous and trusting was the standard, which oftentimes makes it difficult for them to say no or to be inhospitable to people.

Con men are crafty, and I’ve learned that the best way to beat craft is with wit.  And thus, I hope the following information provides you with the tools you need to outwit a con.

The following are two of the most prevalent con schemes that pose a threat to seniors living within the United States today.

Contractor scams — Contract scammers come in two different flavors: (1) unlicensed and (2) licensed.  While unlicensed contractors pose the greatest risk, there are some licensed contractors who scam people as well.  Contract scammers cruise neighborhoods looking for any reason to convince you to hire them.  The majority of cons are roof, window and deck repairs.  Con men come off as very friendly, hence their name. The con is short for “confidence” (confidence men).  They operate by creating a sense of urgency, detailing the alleged problem with the worst-case scenario.  Con men start with giving very high estimates, but then advise that they’ll do the work at a much cheaper rate to help you out. Any request for upfront payment is a dead giveaway that you’re being scammed.  If you feel uneasy, get a second opinion. It’s good to get at least three different quotes anyway.

Never allow people that you do not know inside your home. Conduct all negotiations outside or perhaps at the contractor’s office.  Always verify that the contractor has a legitimate company.  This can be done by checking the Maryland business search website at SDAT.GoV, state or municipal licensing websites, the contractor’s website, the Better Business Bureau, social media pages, and at least three references.  Always get a written contract that spells out the work that the contractor will perform and the bottom line price.  As a rule of thumb, never pay more than $1000 or 10 percent down — in most states that’s all that the law requires.

Utility scams – Utility scams are another regularly used con scheme. Utility scammers are most active during the summer and winter months when HVAC problems are at their height.  They operate by posing as utility company telephone collections agents calling customers to demand payment or face having their utilities shut off.  These calls are usually followed by in-person visits from other con men posing as utility workers, threatening to cut off services unless payment is made, and usually people hand over payment.

To avoid becoming a victim of utility scammers, I recommend the following:

  • Never give any credit card or payment information over the phone. Advise the caller that you will call back to make a payment.  Then call your utility company to verify the veracity of the phone call.
  • Check credentials to verify whether the person is legitimate.
  • Understand that utility company would never send anyone unscheduled or call your home for payment information over the phone.
  • Encounters with scam artists can turn violent. If you feel uneasy, keep your door closed and call the police.  Get a good description of the person, what they are wearing and what type of vehicle they are driving.

Communities can help protect each other from fraud by participating in neighborhood watch, and list serve programs to disseminate information quickly and report things that seem out of order. Other good measures include attending community and association meetings.

Home surveillance systems are a terrific way to deter scammers because criminals don’t like to be seen. Keeping your yard, and the area around your home neat and clean deters criminals because it creates what we call in the security field “Territorial Reinforcement in Defensible Space.”  In a nutshell, the term means that in neighborhoods where properties are well taken care of, owners are usually more alert and responsive when something seems out of place.

I hope this information prevents you or someone you know from being scammed.  If you’ve been a victim of fraud or financial exploitation, please contact your local police department.

By Melvin Key

Melvin is the CEO of MVP Protective Services, a security firm serving D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Melvin is board certified in security management (CPP) and physical security (PSP). He is also a retired Police (MPDC) Captain and a CAI member.

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