Lyndhurst meeting gives tips on how to avoid becoming a scam victim

July 31, 2018

Lyndhurst meeting gives tips on how to avoid becoming a scam victim

LYNDHURST, Ohio -- The elderly, military veterans and those seeking love are some of the people online and phone scammers most frequently prey upon.

While Lyndhurst Police Chief Rick Porrello said he weekly gets reports about such criminal actions, scammers continue to thrive on their victims.

On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Postal Inspector Ian Ortega spoke at the Lyndhurst Community Center to a group of senior citizens, letting them know of the warning signs of scams and fraud, and sharing tips on how to keep from becoming a victim.

Basically, Ortega said, it all boils down to the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Tuesday’s session was arranged by U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, R-14, who was present at the event, in conjunction with the Community Partnership on Aging and Lyndhurst Mayor Patrick Ward.

Ortega explained that seniors are often targeted because many have saved their entire lives and have access to funds, because they’re often home and answer the phone during the daytime hours, they are sometimes isolated, and for one other reason.

“You guys are polite,” he said to the approximately 40 seniors gathered. ”(Scammers) want to use that. It’s OK to hang up on them.”

Indeed, many seniors field phone calls nearly every day from would-be scammers.

“I just got a call today,” said one Meadow Wood Boulevard (Lyndhurst) woman who did not want to reveal her name. “I was threatened. I didn’t answer the phone, I heard it on voicemail. He threatened to arrest me if I didn’t call him.”

Ortega let all know that no one is going to come and arrest them, especially because most of these calls come from other countries.

Said another Meadow Wood woman: “I’ve gotten calls from people with foreign accents. I don’t bother answering. I’m not going to fall for that stuff.”

Some people, however, do believe what callers tell them.

″(Scammers) build a relationship with (their victims), sometimes over many months,” Ortega said. The scammers will learn as much as possible about a victim and work months to earn their trust, often attempting to isolate them from friends and family.

“Sometimes, (scammers) can even change your phone number without you knowing it so that they’re the only ones you talk with,” he said.

Another method used, Ortega said, is to require a victim to make a quick decision about sending money.

Incidents included in Lyndhurst’s police reports often tell of scams perpetrated on the unsuspecting.

On July 12, the manager at PNC Bank, 5055 Mayfield Road, called police when a woman attempted to withdraw $9,000 in cash. The woman, police later learned, was almost the victim of a common scam in which a caller says money is needed to bail a grandson out of jail.

The grandson is not actually in jail, but as Ortega explained, scammers will learn as much as possible about a victim, via social media or by other means, to know names and places, and what will tug on a victim’s heartstrings.

In the PNC Bank matter, the bank and police prevented the elderly woman from losing any money.

Said Ward of the incident, “Her daughter told me, ‘My mother is a smart person, but her heart took over and her concern for her grandson took over.’”

It is this concern and sense of caring that scammers rely on. Sometimes, scammers can prey on people’s desire to make money.

There are sweepstakes scams, in which victims receive a check they are told to deposit, then send an amount of money less than the check’s value back to the scammer. The check the victim is sent ends up bouncing, and the victim is out their money.

“There is no purchase or entry fee for any legitimate sweepstakes,” Ortega said, adding that even Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes can be forged by the unscrupulous.

Ortega further said, “If you think about it, who would just want to send you money?”

There are also foreign lottery scams. Said Ortega of these, “There are no legal lotteries except for the state-run lottery. All others are illegal.”

Seniors, Ortega said, aren’t alone in becoming victims.

“Military veterans are targeted twice as much as others,” Ortega said. ”(Scammers) feed off that military bond.”

In terms of finding love online, Ortega told of a case in which a military veteran corresponded online with a Malaysian woman for a lengthy period of time, then eventually sent $1,500 to her so she could get a passport and come to the United States. Ortega eventually had to tell the man that there really was no Malaysian woman on the other end of his emails.

Ortega advised his audience not to send money to people they have never seen. He further told the seniors that the IRS will not just call and demand money, and warned that work-at-home offers are most often scams.

Ortega noted that many scammers’ calls originate from Jamaica, Nigeria and Turkey. He warned seniors that if a call comes from the 876 area code, it is coming from Jamaica and it is best not to answer. But, he added, scam and fraud calls can come from other area codes, as well.

During his career, Ortega said he has been yelled at by victims who have built a relationship with the scammer and don’t want to believe they have been fooled, by those who are embarrassed by falling victim, or by those who believe Ortega has put a stop to a plan that will truly bring them money.

Joyce, a former Geauga County prosecutor, said, “Unfortunately, these are people who make it their livelihood to go after you every single day.”

Police Chief Porrello said he speaks to his mother, 89, to occasionally warn her about the threat of scams and frauds, and suggests that people do the same with their elderly parents and acquaintances.

Anyone with questions about a possible scam or fraud can call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455 and select option 4. AARP also has a fraud watch network, which can be reached at 1-877-908-3360.

Update hourly