The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 22, 2013

Agencies gear up to help elderly avoid scam artists

Con artists from across the country and around the world are trying hard to rob Ashtabula County residents of their savings and identities.

Sometimes they succeed, like the Geneva Township woman who lost thousands of dollars to scammers who promised her contest winnings late last year in return for a “tax payment” made up front. And sometimes the crooks reach a tougher cookie — like Sheriff William Johnson.

The county’s top lawman for two decades, Johnson is not immune to scammers. Johnson remembers a call he got from a “banking official” who said his account may have been breached and needed his Social Security number to double-check bank records.

“I told him I don’t give out any personal or financial information over the phone,” Johnson said.

The man persisted, modifying his request.

“He asked me for just the last four numbers,” Johnson said. “I told him I would do him one better. I said, “Give me the numbers and I’ll tell you if they’re right. Click! He hung up right away.”

That call didn’t go well for the scammer, but odds are he was back on the phone a few minutes later, peddling his phony story to another person.

Scams are nothing new to the area. They pop up occasionally in police blotters, often from people who tried to cash a cashier’s checks they got in the mail — only to find out it’s fake.

Most of the victims or intended victims are elderly, probably because their generation is more trusting of strangers and less sure of today’s technology, police said. In response, local senior agencies are gearing up to educate their clients about the pitfalls of telephone scammers.

“We help them with that all the time,” said Lucille Hensley, Ashtabula Senior Center executive director. “We try to educate them not to give information over the phone. We also advise them about false donations.”

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