December 2022 - It starts with a simple conversation. Whether it’s “Hey, I want to be your friend” or “I’m in love with you” or “I’ve fallen on tough times…” - that is what opens the door.
Once you get to that step with them, the scammers start to spin their tale: “I have a child…” or “I’m in the military…” These are the two “heartstrings” most often used by scammers, according to Kalida Police Chief Jim Gulker.
Elders are particularly susceptible to these tales, because according to Chief Gulker, “Scammers are so courteous, polite and they care… all the things a lonely senior citizen is craving. We’re human – we rarely like to be alone and not interact.” Before you know it, you’re withdrawing money from your bank and keeping it a secret from your spouse or family members. Or you’re purchasing hundreds of dollars’ worth of gift cards from various stores. Or you’re standing at a bitcoin (digital currency) machine, feeding it loads of cash to purchase bitcoin and send it overseas. You’re just trying to help them out, but they keep asking you to act quickly, and not tell anyone else about it. They might even start threatening you, demanding more money. Something in the back of your mind tells you this is not quite right. But you cannot believe this whole story was a lie because the alternative is too shameful to admit. The truth is that you’re being scammed. If this has ever happened to you or is currently happening to you, Elder Victim Ministry is here to say “You’re not alone” and “We’re here to help!” Elder Victim Ministry (EVM), a program of Crime Victim Services of Allen and Putnam counties, has confirmation from local police that scammers are operating in this area. Whether it’s the ploy of “You’ve won the lottery!” even though you never purchased a ticket, or your computer is locked and you’ll need to purchase gift cards to unlock it, it is a scam to take your money.
EVM reports at least two cases this year of being scammed by a military “friend” in distress, conning victims out of their life savings, which was over $100,000 in one particular case. Both victims involved believed they were helping a man in the military’s special forces, stationed overseas, with a desperate need for money, but no access to their own funds. According to Elysia Bush, Director of EVM, it required intervention from multiple agencies before either victim would believe they were being scammed. Both victims actually borrowed money because they felt so moved to help this supposedly urgent need. The scammer’s story was particularly poignant for both victims because they had family in the military. Local bank tellers and officers, the Area Agency on Aging, Adult Protective Services, EVM, and local law enforcement were all involved in these cases.
One way to spot scams, or similar fraud, is to regularly check your credit report. A credit report shows your payment history, amount of debt and other financial info, so any unusual activity will show up. If you find anything incorrect or unusual, report it immediately.
To encourage individuals, and especially the elderly, to keep a close eye on their financial information, EVM hosted Credit Check Wednesday on Wednesday, November 30, at participating banks, following Thanksgiving and Black Friday festivities.
If you have any questions about scams, identity theft, or elder abuse, please contact Elder Victim Ministry, a program of Crime Victim Services at 419-222-8666. Their services are free and confidential.