In January, Connecticut State Police issued a warning.
Two elderly individuals, called by someone who claimed to work for a state agency, were swindled out of $10,000. The scam was simple, yet effective: The criminals, armed with the name of a relative, informed the elderly individuals that there had been an accident and their loved one was in custody. In order to release the relative from jail, a bond would have to be paid in the amount of $10,000.
The elderly individuals secured the money and gave it to a courier who promised to deliver the bond. Approximately 30 minutes later, the relative supposedly in jail arrived at the seniors’ home and knew nothing of the incident. The scammers had been successful.
Such scenarios are more common than one might believe. In March, an elderly woman from East Lyme was taken for $60,000 by a scammer who claimed to be an attorney representing her bank. The criminal convinced the woman that there had been fraudulent activity involving their account and to catch the perpetrator, she would need to take large sums of money out of her account and convert it into Bitcoin, a very difficult-to-trace crypto currency.
Thankfully, police were able to recover a large percentage of that money for the victim, but not all.
Scams have always been a part of our lives. Criminals claiming to be something they are not, or selling something that doesn’t exist, tell their tale to as many people as possible believing that, for every 10 who say “no,” one is going to say “yes.” But now, with evolving technology and information only a click away for determined criminals, telling the good guys from the bad guys can be all the more difficult.
Last week, State Attorney General William Tong, along with a few other local legislators, visited Cheshire to talk about the issue, especially as it pertains to seniors. While criminals don’t just target the elderly, that demographic is subjected to an inordinate number of scams. The perpetrators usually try to scare their victims into believing that immediate action is necessary, either to help a family member or to secure their own financial safety, leaving no time to check on the veracity of the claims being made. The money is needed now, the criminals will insist, preying on a person’s desire to do the right thing.
And before anyone knows what happened, thousands have been lost with no guarantee that it will ever be recovered.
Officials remind all residents that fees, fines, and bail bonds at the state level are never requested to be paid in the form of gift cards, crypto currency, ATM machines, or wire transfers. Also, be leery of any caller who insists that money is needed “now,” and recommends that no mention of the reasons behind a substantial withdrawal be given to anyone inquiring.
Just as car thieves are on the lookout for easy targets, patrolling for unlocked doors and vehicles where valuables are left out in the open, scammers are also looking for the “easy” mark. The more questions asked, the more skepticism shown, the less willing one is to simply hand over thousands of dollars to someone making an unusual or outrageous claim, the more likely the scammers are to just move on.
So, while the scams are unfortunately becoming more sophisticated and harder to spot, they can still be dismantled by employing a bit of skepticism and some quick research. If someone claims to be from a state agency, check it out. If someone asks for money, especially some sort of wire or transfer payment, assume the person is a scammer. Do your due diligence. If something sounds outlandish, it probably is. If something sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Scams aren’t going away. But thankfully there are some relatively easy steps to take to protect yourself from becoming a victim.