Police Warn Of Financial Scams Targeting The Elderly Around The City

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Sep 28, 2017 11:47PM

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The stuff I don't want to have to carry. Photo via Shutterstock.

Chicago police are warning about a variety of financial scams targeting elderly Chicagoans around the city. The scams vary in theme but have similar intent: to convince people that a legitimate business or government organization requires them to pay money as soon as possible.

The police department described several of the financial fraud crimes in a warning Thursday morning, detailing the "creative" approaches that criminals can take to rob "our most vulnerable citizens," noting that the elderly are often targets because they can be more trusting or willing to listen to strangers posing as people they are not. Many financial scams are conducted over the phone, but some, including recent ones in Chicago, can be in person.

In one fraud, called the "Sweepstakes Fraud," police say someone will call and say that you won money or a prize in a sweepstakes, but that you will have to pay for taxes, insurance or shipping and handling fees in order to collect the prize. As the police note, a true sweepstakes would not require the winner to pay anything.

One instance of the sweepstakes fraud getting someone in Chicago took place on Sept. 26 in North Edgewater. In that incident, an 89-year-old woman was contacted by phone and told she won a 3 million dollar sweepstakes. She was told she first needed to wire money from her bank to Indiana. This happened repeatedly, at least five times since May 2017, before she reported it to the police. The woman said the caller defrauded a large sum of money from her.

In another type of fraud, known as "Lottery Fraud," a scammer can approach a person on the street and present to them what looks like a winning lottery ticket. The scammer will then ask for help cashing the ticket, saying they don't have a bank account or that they are not in the country legally and therefore can't claim their winnings. On Aug. 21 at 3:30 p.m. in Back-of-the-Yards, a 51-year-old man was approached by two Latino men, one who was 55-65 years old, the other who was 65-75 years old, in a black SUV. The older men approach the man and told him they had a winning Lottery ticket they couldn't cash without his help. The man ended up giving them "a large sum of money," and then the scammers came up with an excuse to take off with his money.

Another scam, the "Grandparent Scam," was reported on Sept. 12 in Portage Park. In this scam, a caller typically pretends to be a grandchild or another family member, and claims they urgently need money because they were in an accident and need help paying bills, or that they were arrested and need money for bail. Sometimes the caller claims to be calling on behalf of the child, either as a criminal justice official requesting bail money or as a hospital personnel. Typically the caller will request money to be sent through Western Union or Money Gram, according to police (note that a legitimate hospital or court system would not request money like this).

In the Sept. 12 incident, a 77-year-old woman was contacted by the phone and told her son was in jail. She agreed to meet with the caller and provide a large sum of money for bail. The caller was a white, 20-25 year-old woman, who met with her and took her money. The young woman later re-contacted the woman and asked for more money a second time. She did this again a third time, but the elderly woman did not have any more money to give, prompting the scammer to stop calling.

In a fourth scam, known as the "Computer Virus Scam," a caller will pretend to represent a computer company such as Apple or Microsoft, and claim that the recipients computer or account has been hacked. The caller then offers to remotely fix the problem, for a fee, then ask for credit card or bank information. This happened on Sept. 5 at 3 p.m. in the Gold Coast. In this incident, an 82-year-old man received a phone call from an unknown person claiming to represent a cell service and internet provider. The man was told that if he wanted to prevent hacking, he needed to purchase gift cards and then call back with the gift card number and pin.

Police say that there are several ways to protect yourself from these types of scams. Chief among them: Never give out your credit card or bank information to anyone you don't know, and if you do, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to cancel the payments or freeze the accounts. Police also say you should never agree to meet with anyone who might be scammer, and to call 911 immediately and report what happened in as much detail as possible. Finally, if you are a senior citizen and you think you've been contacted by a scammer, police suggest you contact another family member or a trusted friend for help in addition to contacting law enforcement.