Con Artists

It's the season again when talented con artists prey on unsuspecting citizens, trying to swindle them out of money and property. Each year thousands of people report incidents of being swindled. It is estimated that over half of the actual incidents go unreported because the victims are too embarrassed to admit they've been swindled.


Although anyone can be the target of a con game, elderly persons often become victims. Recent studies show that the average age of con game victims is 78 years old. The victims are frequently in declining health, have poor vision, are easily confused and have cash savings hidden in their homes. These victims are sought because they are less likely to identify the thieves, or to prosecute if the thieves are caught.

Method of Operation

Residential con artists use different methods of operation to locate potential victims. They travel in groups by pick-up trucks, vans, cars or on foot during daylight hours.

Very often, the residential con artist watches his victims a day or more before the actual encounter. The victim may first be observed from a passing vehicle, by a child selling candy or cookies, or by a female posing as a political canvasser. Once a victim is located, a plan is devised and the offender returns later, armed with information about the victim and the residence.

These types of offenders will strike when an opportunity presents itself. If a potential victim is seen working in the yard, the offenders will take immediate action by entering the unattended, unlocked home to commit a burglary.

The con artist's goal is to enter the victim's home unopposed -- for example, as a repairman or utility inspector. Once inside, the victim's attention is held by one or more members of the group, while the others roam through the house taking money, jewelry, collectibles, strong boxes or any concealable items of value.

Method of Deception

The methods of deception that con artists use are limited only by their imaginations. Some of the most popular poses used by adult con artists include the following:

Gas company employees
Electric company employees
Water department employees
Building inspectors
City inspectors
Telephone repairmen
Chimney repairmen
Cement repairmen
Window repairmen
Persons offering emergency family assistance
Prevention and What You Can Do

Be observant and alert for strange pickup trucks, vans, station wagons and cars cruising your neighborhood. Also observe strange pick-up trucks, vans, station wagons or cars parked on your street or in your alley that contain occupants.
Take note of work being done on vehicles parked on the street that do not belong there. Watch for minor repair work being done on sidewalks, stairs, building foundations or chimneys. Watch for strangers walking down the street with buckets and ladders going door to door.
Write down the license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles. Also note the make, model and color of these vehicles and the driver and occupants of suspicious vehicles.
If you observe the suspicious vehicles or persons in your neighborhood and think there is a crime in progress, then call 911 with a complete description of the incident. If the suspicious vehicles or persons are no longer in the area, but you want to alert the police, call the non-emergency number.
If you have an elderly person living next door or on your block and you see someone suspicious at their home, call the police. If your parents are elderly and live alone, inform them not to let anyone in their home for repairs without first contacting you or the police.
Do's and Don'ts to Protect Yourself from Con Artists


Don't give out personal information, including credit card numbers (or even just expiration dates) if you are not making a purchase. Do not give out this information even if you are asked to do so for identification verification purposes, or to prove eligibility for an offer.
Don't advertise that you live alone by the way you list your name in the phone book or put it on your mail box.
Don't be fooled by a trustworthy manner or an official-sounding title of any person who makes an unusual financial proposition to you. Check the person out first. This may require calling the police.
Don't be fooled by persons claiming to represent a city or state government agency. Always ask for their picture I.D.
Don't give strangers money or valuables as a "good faith" deposit.
Don't sign anything that you don't understand.


Do be wary of strangers with money propositions claiming to have been referred by your friends, relatives or clergy.
Do be instantly suspicious of "deals" that require secrecy.
Do take a few days to consider money propositions; talk them over with someone close to you.
Do notify the police if you come close to being victimized or if you are actually victimized by a con artist.
Do testify in court, if asked, to help stop this kind of crime.
Do get several estimates for every repair job and compare prices and terms. Ask if there is a charge for an estimate before agreeing to let the repair person or company inspect your home.
Do make sure you know your sales person's name and the name and address of the company he or she represents.
Do ask the firm for references, and check them out. Inspect the finished product.
Do contact your local Better Business Bureau to check out the company's reputation before you authorize any work or pay any money.
Before you decide to sign a contract, do make sure a completion date is specified and that you know what the job will cost, if work will be sub-contracted, if a bond will be posted to protect you against liens on your home, if the contract includes all oral promises made, and if materials to be used are described in detail.

Pay for home improvement work with a check or money order, never with cash. You may wish to make installment payments at the beginning of a job, when the work is almost complete, and after the job is finished. Many reputable companies do not require payment until the work is completed.

And most important of all, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.