Police addressed a packed house at the Darien Senior Activities Center Monday afternoon to discuss online and door-to-door scams, many of which are increasingly targeted at the elderly in traditionally affluent areas such as Darien. Darien Police Sgt. Keri Isaac, whose grandfather lost much of his life savings 20 years ago through a scam, requested in March that the police conduct the informational session.
"These are crimes we see year after year," she said.
In addition to a perceived cognitive weakening, there are a number of traits that make older citizens attractive to would-be scammers.
According to a report conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the elderly are more likely to "own their home and to have excellent credit. People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940 and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say `no' or just hang up the telephone."
In addition, elderly citizens who live alone often neglect to report scams because "they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs."
Isaac, who led the question-and-answer session along with officer Luke Adams, assured the audience that despite such statistics, criminals are not successful merely because they target the elderly. "They're good at what they do," she said. "If they spent as much time doing something legit as they do committing crimes, they would probably be successful."
Most of the time was spent discussing three common scams that are frequently reported locally.
The Bail-Out: According to Darien police, criminals will often call every number in a phone book, searching for "older" and "trusting"-sounding voices on the other end. In this particular scam, a person pretending to be a police officer, or a relative stuck in jail, will call requesting bail money. By remaining vague, con artists can often build convincing personas. To counter the scam, Adams suggested that residents "ask questions only a family member would know. A lot of times they will hang up after that."
The Chimney Sweep: In this con, a few individuals will come to the door saying that your old chimney sweep company has gone out of business. They will ask to inspect your chimney and eventually will offer a cheap cleaning service. Armed with photos of chimney interiors and pieces of debris, scammers will pretend that they actually provided you with a service. Isaac advised residents to call local sweepers for a chimney cleaning and added that it takes roughly three days, by law, before legal sweepers can begin work. "If they want to do immediate work, it's a scam."
The Health-Care Aide: Although officers reinforced the notion that the "majority of them are very professional," health-care professionals, especially aides, have been known to take advantage of dependent seniors. By getting ahold of financial information or finding a checkbook, aides have reportedly stolen thousands of dollars in local incidents. Isaac recommends calling your bank manager if you feel this crime may be occurring. "Banks are very good with this now. They see it going on a lot, especially in Darien."
Isaac also reminded residents that the police should always be called, as well. Any scams perpetrated against those older than 60 automatically carry a more serious charge.
Adams concluded the talk with a reminder for the wise and experienced. "If it's too good to be true, you know it probably is. You've worked too hard for your money for it to go to something like this."