Prosecutor will crack down on scammers targeting seniors

By Tom Gantert Legal News It's the email everyone has received at one time or another. The writer is from Nigeria and has a great deal of money to transfer to the recipient, if they just get their banking information. Yet some senior citizens are still falling for this scam. "They do," said Danielle Pequet, in-home services coordinator for the Jackson County Department of Aging. "They think: 'Why would this not be true?' When somebody pulls on their heartstrings, they fall for it. They are caring people." When he ran for Jackson County Prosecutor, Jerry Jarzynka said he wanted to put a focus on prosecuting the scams used against seniors. Jarzynka said when he takes office in January, he will assign an assistant prosecutor to review such scams. "With our demographics, there is going to be a lot of members of our population who are going to be targets, and criminals are going to be looking to steal their money," Jarzynka said. "We will see more of these financial scams so I want to take a proactive approach." Jackson County's population is becoming increasingly older. In 2010, 32,000 residents were 60 and older, or about 20 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census. That is up from 16.7 percent in 2000. Jarzynka said there are a handful of scams involving seniors that his office runs across. There is the grandparents' scam. A young-sounding person will call a grandparent and say, "Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?" And the grandparent will respond with the name of a grandchild. At that point, the scammer pretends that he's the grandchild, and is in trouble, and needs money for bail or for a car that has broken down out of state. Jarzynka said the con artist pleads with the grandparent not to tell his parents. And there is the scam in which someone knocks on the doors of seniors and says they are working for the water department. They tell the senor there is a water main break and they need to come into the house to see if their water is working. Once inside, they ask the senior to stay in the bathroom and run the water while they search the house for valuables. Jarzynka said the police were able to catch one person involved in this scam when he cut himself on the sink and left blood behind. Using DNA evidence, they linked the man to the crime, although it took a couple of years to catch him, Jarzynka said. There are also lottery scams where "winners" are asked to forward banking information to claim their reward. Home repair scams involve contractors who ask for money up front and then never complete the job. And county officials said there is a jury duty scam, where seniors are told they missed their call for jury duty and could face legal consequences. The seniors are then told they can solve the problem by submitting personal information such as social security numbers, etc. "The criminals involved in this, they are skilled, they are knowledgeable and they are very organized," Jarzynka said. The Jackson County Department of Aging does have some tools it uses to try to educate seniors on potential scams. Every September, the department puts on a conference dealing with senior issues, including current scams. The department also puts out a bi-monthly newsletter that addresses the issue. "With older adults, they become vulnerable and somebody may contact them on the phone and they seem nice and friendly," Pequet said. "If it is too good to be true, it probably is." Published: Mon, Dec 10, 2012

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