By Mary O’KEEFE
Local banks have recently seen an increase in fraudulent activity including scenarios of lottery ticket winners and family members traveling in foreign countries that need financial help.
“We have noticed, lately, a group of people that seem to be targeted by these [types of fraud],” said a local banker. “It seems to be targeted toward the elderly.”
The banker – who didn’t want to be identified – added that during the holiday season, at least one customer per week came into the bank with a story about an attorney or someone representing their grandchild. The story continued with the family member needing funds after they were in an accident or had been arrested. All the grandparent had to do was send several thousand dollars to the representative and the grandchild would be allowed to leave whatever country they were supposedly in.
“They would instruct the [customer] not to tell anyone about the problem with their grandchild,” the banker added.
The banker said despite her warnings to the customer that the scenario is fake, it was difficult to convince the customer that their grandchild was not in danger.
Stuart Perlitsh, CEO at Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union, has also seen this type of scam, as well as another concerning lottery winnings.
“They would get a call from [an alleged foreign country] representative,” Perlitsh said. “They would tell [the customer] that he or she has won the lottery in that country.”
All they had to do was send a few hundred, or at times, a few thousand dollars for taxes and the winning millions would be theirs to collect.
Perlitsh said he too had found it difficult to convince customers this type of scenario was a fraud.
“I would ask them if they had ever been to [that country] or if they had ever bought a lottery ticket from there. They would say ‘no’,” he said.
But still the lure of big money is difficult to compete against.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is,” said Det. Rodger Burt, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station.
Burt has taken several reports on identity theft and scams that are targeted at the elderly. Although he hasn’t seen a recent spike in reports, it is a constant problem.
He added the scams can be as simple as a call from a supposed lottery to extremely elaborate tales.
“Another [scam] that isn’t necessarily targeted at the elderly is when someone buys something online,” he said.
For example, on a site like Craig’s List.
“For some reason, and there is always a reason, the person who is purchasing the item will send a check that is over the amount of the item,” Burt said. “The seller takes the check to her or his bank and deposits or cashes it and then sends the overage to the buyer.”
It is only days later that it is discovered that the original check used to purchase the item is fraudulent, however by that time the funds have already been sent and the seller has no choice but to count that amount as a loss.
Sgt. Harley Wing, Glendale Police Department, said his request for seminars on the subject have increased. He and his staff recently spoke at Glendale Adventist Hospital to over 150 people, many of them members of ASTER, a Crescenta Valley senior group.
“We go to retirement homes and hospitals and ask for a list of what issues are of most interest to those [that will be attending the seminars],” Wing said.
The problem is there are so many concerns and only so much time.
“Our goal is to have a whole series of talks about [specific] scams,” Wing said.
He too has dealt with scams that appear to target the elderly, however there are many more that target people from all walks of life.
“Especially with Valentine’s Day coming up,” Wing warned adding that some scams are a type of “lonely hearts” scenario.
“Internet romance,” he said. “Someone will say, ‘Why don’t we get together?’ but the person can’t afford it so they ask the man, or woman, to send them money to help them [travel] to the person.”
Wing spoke of another popular scam when a person will call a resident and ask them if they have a Visa. Most people have that type of credit card, so they tell the caller they are a Visa holder.
The fraudulent Visa representative will then explain that the cardholder’s account may have been compromised.
“The caller will read off the person’s card number and ask if it is correct,” he said. “It is [relatively] easy to get someone’s card number. The [caller] will ask if the person has purchased [something like a computer] and the Visa holder says ‘no’,” Wing said.
The caller then tells the person that they are victims of a fraud and ask to verify the card number and then ask for the three digit security number on the back of the card called a CRV.
“That is a difficult number to get,” Wing said.
The caller may sound legitimate but it is all a scam.
“Banks do not ask you for that information,” he said.
Bankers and law enforcement advise anyone who receives a phone call that offers a deal that is just too good, asks for private financial information, or has money for someone from a lottery ticket that was never purchased in an country never visited, they can call their bank or law enforcement to verify.
And if a representative calls concerning a grandchild or relative in trouble with the law but that the information must remain a secret, the person should contact law enforcement.