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Common scams continue to snare unwary local residents

Tom Jackson • Nov 5, 2012 at 1:04 PM

The fellow who calls you and says that your grandchild is in jail, so wire him money and he’ll get your grandkid out? That’s a scam, too.

How about that email from a friend in a foreign country who has been robbed and needs quick cash to get back to the U.S.? It’s very likely phony.

The same frauds are attempted over and over again. But they sometimes still work on local residents. And many of the cruelest frauds are aimed not at greed but at the natural sympathy we feel for helping loved ones and friends.

Janet Fenwick, 75, Wakeman, told the Erie County Sheriff’s Office that a man who identified himself as “John Spencer” phoned at about 9:15 a.m. Friday and explained that he works for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. Mr. “Spencer” explained to Fenwick that her grandson had been arrested with a friend in Mexico for smuggling drugs.

Fenwick was instructed to wire $2,400 to a man in Mexico so that her grandson could be flown to the U.S. When Fenwick asked to speak to her grandson, she was told he would call her when he got to the U.S. Fenwick was warned not to speak to anyone about the situation, as it would complicate the release from jail.

Fenwick refused to send another $700 when “Spencer” called back and said her grandson needed a narcotics lawyer.

At about 2 p.m. Friday, Fenwick’s grandson phoned to thank her for a card she had sent him. That’s when Fenwick learned that her grandson had not been in Mexico at all.

Deputy Zach Gillespie wrote in his report that the phone number for “Spencer” had a Canadian area code and that no one answered the phone when the deputy called. Fenwick was advised to call the Ohio attorney general’s office.

Sue Daugherty, executive director of Serving Our Seniors, said many con artists prey on the elderly, figuring that many of them have at least some savings.

Many older people don’t report frauds because they are embarrassed and believe they will be seen as no longer competent to manage their own affairs, Daugherty said.

“We as a society don’t understand the severity of financial elder abuse,” Daugherty said.

One common tactic is to call older people in the middle of the night, when they are likely to be disoriented and won’t be wearing their hearing aids.

“Your first response is an urgent response,” Daugherty said. “You do what you need to do and you don’t think about substantiating the thing that you do.”

Daugherty said she advises people who receive a call such as the one Fenwick received to ask for the person’s full name, telephone number and address and then promise to call back. The person often will hang up, or will give an evasive answer, which is a red flag, Daugherty said.

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