You see the news stories and the public service announcements on a regular basis, warning about potential scams emanating from your phone or your computer. It seems that there are a lot of talented, imaginative people out there who could use their talents in a legal manner, in a real job, but apparently would prefer to prey upon the uniformed and infirm.
After spending a good portion of my life dealing with thieves and con artists, I just can’t understand how so many people let themselves fall victim to scams. But even more than that, I have never been able to understand the mentality of people who can stoop to making a living by stealing the hard-earned money of others, and why they just don’t go out and get a real job that would utilize their obvious skills of persuasion.
Back in the day, and before the internet, one of the most common scams was called the pigeon drop. It was a bait and switch scheme that preyed on people’s seemingly never-ending desire to get something for nothing. Someone would approach another person, claiming to have found a large sum of money or some valuable item. A third person, actually an accomplice, would frequently be involved, allegedly as another innocent like the potential mark. An agreement would be made to split the find equally if the mark would put up a certain amount of “good faith money” to prove his credibility. In return, the found item would be left with him while the others went off on some seemingly necessary errand, taking his good faith money with them.
Amazingly, the LPD used to receive reports every few months that one or more of these scams had succeeded. I could never understand how anyone could fall for this, since it doesn’t take a mental giant to figure out that the alleged finder will never return, and that when the mark eventually opens the package containing the “found” item, it will have been switched for something worthless.
Today, the hotbed of scams is the internet, with almost a constant stream of attempts to obtain financial information from someone by devious means. These range from phony ads, to outright attempts to glean sensitive information, to “Free” offerings that try to entice you to click on something that is going to wind up costing money.
Of course, seniors are a prime target, but many seniors don’t have internet access, so several years ago some enterprising crook came up with a telephone scam against seniors, specifically grandparents. A caller will claim to be the grandchild of the potential victim, or will say he is calling on behalf of a grandchild who needs money for some emergency.
I know a person who almost became a victim of this one, after coming very close to believing that his juvenile grandson was in jail for drinking and driving, despite being sure in his mind that his grandson would not drink alcohol, and never had even tasted it. He finally decided to call the boy’s parents, and found that the grandson was at home in bed.
I actually received such a call myself, but I figured it out it immediately, and ended it. We were driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike one afternoon, and my cell phone rang. The call had been forwarded from my home landline, the major recipient of scam calls. The call went like this:
A young male voice said, “Grandpa?”
It sounded very much like my oldest grandson, so I replied, “Phil?”
“Yes. Grandpa, I have a problem. I went to Florida with a friend, and he got arrested. I don’t have a way to get home, and no money for a ticket, so could you send me enough money to get home?”
I immediately ended the call, for the simple reason that I know that my grandson would never be asking me for money. Since he is a Doctor of Optometry, and his wife is a Certified Nurse Practitioner at the Cleveland Clinic, a more likely scenario would involve me calling him and saying, “This is your grandpa; could you please send me some money?”
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.