Phone scams often target those in a holiday mood

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 21, 2002

[11/21/02]As holidays approach, Warren County residents are being warned to be wary of telephone scams, particularly lottery, sweepstakes and charity-type calls that target older residents, Deputy Sheriff Chris Counts said.

“This time of year people are in a very giving mood,” Counts said. “These scam artists exploit that.”

Counts said three older residents in Warren County have already filed reports about being contacted by phone and asked for money.

Counts said he knows few calls are even reported and that con artists are getting better. “They’re good and they are active,” he said.

Vicksburg Police Investigator Fran Jeffers said the department gets calls reporting possible phone scams, but it is mostly to let the department know it is going on, not to file a charge.

Counts is Warren County chairman for Triad, a group created by American Association of Retired Persons to organize against victimization of senior citizens.

“AARP approached the National Sheriff’s Association and the International Association of Chief of Police strictly for the safety, education and crime prevention of senior citizens,” he said.

Counts said he encourages all people in the community to become involved with Triad and attend meetings.

“A person does not have to be a member of AARP or a senior citizen to be involved,” he said. “All that is required is just care about security and safety issues of the elderly.”

Counts said Triad has guest speakers who speak on subjects from protection from telemarketers to tort reform to long-term care insurance.

“We have great speakers on a variety of subjects,” Counts said. “Senior citizens are also given the chance to voice their concerns to law enforcement at monthly meetings.”

Triad’s November guest speaker Assistant Attorney Mike Rhodes said telephone scams are a $40 billion industry.

“Seniors have built up a nest egg and are usually home when the con artists call,” Rhodes said. “Con artists are slick; they don’t think like the rest of us.”

Counts said one of the phone scams going on in Warren County is the fake charity scam.

“Criminals will mimic names that sound like a legitimate charity and milk people for money,” he said.

Counts said if the charities are legitimate they will be registered with the Secretary of State Charities Regulation and Enforcement.

“All someone has to do is call and check them out at 1-800-804-6364,” Counts said. “If the charity is legitimate, it will be listed.”

Rhodes said people can even call the number to find out what percentage of donated money actually goes to the charities.

“We’ve seen charities that 85 percent goes to the telemarketers and only 15 percent goes to the people you think it should go to,” he said.

Counts said another phone scam to be on the lookout for is the lottery or sweepstakes scam.

“The criminals call a person, usually an elderly person, and tell them they have been randomly selected as the winner of a lottery or a sweepstakes with earnings from $10,000 to $50,000,” Counts said. “They then instruct the victim to send in a processing fee and tax on the winnings, ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.”

Counts said the scam artists are good at convincing people they are legitimate.

“They’ll give a person information about the firm, employee identification number, they’ll even give a number to call to verify that they are legitimate,” Counts said. “They’ll give information to check them out, but it’s simply a scam.”

Counts said with the aging population increasing it is important to combat crimes on the elderly because they are vulnerable.

“There are 734 residents in Mississippi who are at least 100 years old, 31 are at least 110 years old,” Counts said. “Those numbers are going to grow.”

Counts said there are three main reasons crimes against the elderly are so difficult to combat.

One, he said, is elderly people fail to report the crime in the beginning, especially the ones who live alone.

“A lot of elderly are already under pressure from family members about living alone, so they don’t want to admit they were taken by a scam artist,” Counts said.

He said the second reason is most of the bad guys are not physically in the county or even the country and they reach their victims by mail or telephone.

“The criminals don’t have a face or a name,” Counts said. “We are talking multi-jurisdictions.”

Counts said the third reason is the public does not generally view crimes against the elderly as being as serious as other types of crimes.

“Financial exploitation of senior citizens is a very lucrative business,” Counts said, “one that needs to be combated.”