MADERA COUNTY – The number of complains concerning fraud in Madera County has spiked nearly 250 percent compared to the same time last year, according to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’ve had 112 complaints so far this year, compared to 45 filed during the same time period last year,” says Sheriff John Anderson.The majority of fraud cases reported to the Sheriff’s Office involve financial theft, identity theft – all of them via the internet – snail-mail and the telephone.
The largest growing segment of the population targeted by these thieves are senior citizens.
“Con artists typically prey on the elderly,” says Anderson, “because generally speaking, senior citizens, especially those who live alone, may be more willing to listen to a sales pitch based on the engaging nature of the stranger on the other end of the line.”
Anderson says scammers target senior citizens because seniors are most likely to have good credit, own a home and have a nest egg.
It’s a topic the sheriff has been focused on for the past two years, and he frequently outlines the dos and don’ts when speaking at town hall gatherings and civic group meetings. While some senior citizens are starting to catch on, others are still falling prey, says Anderson.
Such was the case with a recent complaint concerning a senior citizen with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In the end, she was swindled out of nearly $50,000.
“It started with an animated call from a perfect stranger,” says Anderson. “He banked on her vulnerability and in time she took the bait. He told her she was the winner of a contest that she had entered, and she believed him.”
The victim said she couldn’t believe he was conning her because he sounded so sincere and was so engaging. As soon as he won her trust, he got her to wire some money, telling her he could then send her the nearly $1,000 prize.
But it didn’t end there. “The calculated calls kept coming,” says Anderson, “and she kept wiring money.”
Two months later, the scammer had taken her for a total of $49,654.
She’s not alone, Anderson says. The very same thing happened to yet another senior citizen, who did not want to file a report. On behalf of that victim’s family, the Sheriff’s Office made a house-call to explain to the victim that the call was indeed a scam.
About to receive a Medicare card? This is important!
Now, a new method of identity theft scam is surfacing in Madera County. A team of thieves is calling unsuspecting seniors telling them they need to renew their Medicare cards, says Anderson.
But before the caller proceeds, he first reads off the four numbers he/she claims is on your checking account, and then asks you to supply the remaining numbers.
It’s a scam, says Sheriff Anderson.
In fact, the Sheriff received a call from Madera Tribune columnist Leon Emo, saying he’d been called by someone claiming to be with Medicare. Fortunately, Leon hung up.
What may seem like an obvious scam to some, might not to others, says Anderson.
“Much of how they get your money boils down to how they treat their victims,” he says. “With some they are cajoling, with others they invoke fear.”
Con artists can be very good at instilling fear in their victims, bullying them into giving money. In one instance in Madera County, the caller literally scared one senior citizen into forking over money she could ill afford to lose.
The caller told the woman he knew her full name, and knew where she lived. He was relentless, badgering her until she finally caved in.
Sheriff Anderson says con artists are very good at acquiring bits of information about people through the Internet – especially information on seniors. They typically prey on senior citizens because they are banking on their kindness, trust, and vulnerability.
“These predators do their homework before they call you,” says Anderson. “They will call you by name, and might even ask if you still live at your current address, which they will recite. They may even know the names of your relatives and your friends.”
In one particular scam, the thieves actually pose as a relative in search of financial help, he adds.
Anderson says if you receive a call from anyone telling you that you have won a prize, hang up. If anyone calls you about your credit card statement, your banking account, your social security card, Medicare card – anything that involves sharing personal and confidential information – HANG UP.
“And when you hang up, let your family, friends and neighbors know what happened,” he adds. “You can help by spreading the word, so that when someone else in our community gets a call like the one you did, they’ll know what to do. They’ll hang up.”