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Getting the low-down on senior citizen scams

A robber learns the "home improvement" scam in prison, then drives through communities scamming people on fake roofing or driveway sealing jobs.

Monday, December 03, 2001

A robber learns the "home improvement" scam in prison, then drives through communities scamming people on fake roofing or driveway sealing jobs.

So-called telemarketers buy gullible clients’ names then berate them into mailing cashier’s checks, which are sometimes worth their entire life savings. Pairs of people pretend to be inspectors but really thieve valuables from the unsuspecting elderly.

Those predators are out there, committing crimes now, and there’s one thing that can stop them – prevention, said David M. Kessler, chief investigator with Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery’s office.

Kessler, speaking before dozens of Lawrence County senior citizens last week at a COAD Senior Programs Division presentation, showed videotapes and detailed cases from his long career as a fraud investigator.

"We’re not here to scare you, but to educate you with the knowledge there are these people," Kessler said. "The biggest deterrent is the realization that there are bad people out there."

Coming forward and reporting a possible scam or con artist is the best way to hurt these criminals, he said.

"I guarantee, you tell me or the sheriff or any investigator, we won’t think you’re dumb," Kessler said, adding that con artists can fool anyone. "You will be a hero for coming forward."

Sheriff Tim Sexton, who also attended the presentation, agreed, adding that these scams are occurring locally as well as in major cities.

Calls from Canada, for instance, when they say you’ve won a prize but need to give them money for the "international taxes" are scams, Sexton said.

"I am committed to working with you, the attorney general, prosecutor’s office to do the best to protect you and your assets," the sheriff said. "We can convict but we often don’t get the money back the best way to get to these people is prevention. I can only ask that we you receive these calls, be strong and don’t give in."

Kessler also told of criminals who learn the art of scamming in prison or who target senior citizens because they’re so trusting – whether they are women looking to marry widowers and take all their money, or young men promising to fix something for much more than the job’s worth.

They are criminals the same as people commit robbery or assault, he said.

It’s often termed theft by deception, but it’s always worse than that, Kessler said.

"It’s stealing from their souls; stealing from their self-esteem."

After showing tapes about how scams were perpetrated, Kessler told seniors that if they need something done – like a driveway, roof, or water leak repaired – then talk to friends, family or a group like COAD who can help.

"Don’t give a stranger money, and if you have a gut feeling, call 911 and say something," he said.