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
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
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
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"
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
Do contact your local Better Business Bureau to check out the
company's reputation before you authorize any work or pay any
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.