I write about imposters in this space in almost every edition. Those imposters take the form of grandchildren, tech support specialists, Social Security agents, IRS agents, and people wanting to award millions in sweepstakes winnings. Although these imposters assume many different forms, one thing they share in common is their method of contacting victims – usually by phone.
But we need to remember that is not always the case. On occasion, imposters can show up at your door. A news story out of Niles, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, demonstrated this in a pretty dramatic fashion. An 81-year-old man, Dan Donovan, and his wife, Barbara, answered their door on Nov. 4 to find a man wearing a reflective vest, masked up, and carrying tools. This visitor said he worked for the electric utility, and he wanted to check their fusebox because of a fire in the neighborhood. This sounded plausible enough for the Donovans to admit the visitor, who immediately went to the basement, with the Donovans following. In the basement, this visitor kept the Donovans engaged talking about the fusebox. During the talking, Barbara heard floorboards creaking upstairs. She realized someone else came into the house, so the Donovans and the “utility worker” ran up the stairs, where the Donovans discovered two men ransacking their bedroom. All three intruders fled the house with Dan in hot pursuit, swinging away with his grandfather’s antique Irish walking stick, a shillelagh. Dan connected on at least one swing with one of the intruders, and kept bashing away on the getaway car as the intruders sped away.
While this particular story originates some distance away, I know of similar incidents in Clinton and in rural areas of Clinton County in recent years. While uncommon, we can’t discount it happening here again. The method of operation is simple – one crook keeps the homeowners or occupants busy while accomplices enter through another entrance and ransack for valuables. This is one of the best reasons I can think of as to not admit strangers into your home. The “utility worker” ruse is one of the most common, but I know of one Clinton County case where the intruders posed as vacuum cleaner salesmen.
If you are confronted at the door by someone looking semi-official like this, they need to produce identification proving their status. And even then, don’t hesitate to verify the visit with their supposed employer. If someone claiming to work for Alliant Energy or REA comes to the door, call Alliant Energy or REA for confirmation. Don’t let a stranger inside based on their story alone.
OR POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE?
Many readers call me with questions about mail or phone calls they receive, asking for funds to support this or that charity or cause. Kay Harksen of rural Camanche is the latest, and her story allows me to make a point. Kay tells us she received both mail and phone calls recently from the Police and Sheriff’s Support Alliance, asking for donations. The phone caller became aggressive and very pushy, telling Kay the money went to local law enforcement. But Kay felt unsettled by the behavior of the caller, and asked for advice from me.
I never heard of this organization, but a quick online search turned up enough information to help Kay make a decision on supporting this cause. I found the “Alliance” is not a charity, but rather a political action committee; meaning they use the money to exert influence on policy makers, not directly benefit local law enforcement. I found many complaints online describing pushy tactics by their callers.
Many pseudo-charities incorporate terms like “veterans”, “police”, or some variation of those in their titles, to dress up their fundraising. It’s impossible to really figure out the mission or effectiveness of an organization by its title alone. I’m extremely leery of any organization claiming to work for law enforcement or veterans, because I encountered lots of phoniness in that universe. Don’t contribute to any such organization unless you did the research to know why the organization exists, and how well they do what they claim to do. Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator are two very useful online tools with which to accomplish this research.
SOCIAL SECURITY SCAM, GIFT CARDS – ANOTHER LOSS
A rural Clinton man lost $1,400 to the Social Security scam this week, and gift cards were the vehicle of his loss. I’ll call him Jerry. Jerry received a call telling him of jeopardy to his social security account. Someone used his number to rent a car in Texas, in which police found blood and drugs. The authorities issued a warrant for Jerry’s arrest. This terrified Jerry, but he learned from the callers, for $1,400 they could withdraw the warrant.
So these callers kept Jerry on his cellphone for four hours as he went to his bank, withdrew the cash, drove to two different convenience stores, and purchased eBay gift cards, and loaded the money on them. Once the money was loaded on the cards, these criminals told Jerry to read off the redemption codes off the reverse of the card – and at that point the funds on the cards became accessible to the callers. They wasted no time using this money on eBay for purchases.
It’s a troubling and becoming-too-familiar story to hear. Jerry’s fear caused panic, exactly the wrong emotion he needed in this scenario. The criminals exploited Jerry’s fear and panic to do things a reasonable person not under duress would not do. The crooks kept Jerry on the phone to prevent him from asking for help, or asking for advice, and to keep control over him. They told him they recorded his every word
Two final points I want to highlight with Jerry’s story:
• Social Security will never call you, and will never demand payment
• Gift cards are for gifts. Anyone asking for one for payment for anything is a scammer. Don’t talk to them.
CONTACT SENIORS VS. CRIME
Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.