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Seniors Scammed, Police Educate

Police say con-artists "aggressively" targeting seniors.

— An 86-year-old Springfield area woman was told last week she had won the lottery. But there was a catch; she needed to wire money to the "caller" in order to collect her winnings. She did as she was asked.

A 91-year-old Fair Oaks area man was upset and concerned when he got a call from his "grandson" who said he’d been arrested and jailed in Peru a few weeks ago. Doing what any loving grandparent would, the man wired over $13,000 in an attempt to help.

An 80-year-old woman wired $4,800 to Bolivia to her "granddaughter" who was there for a wedding and had gotten into a serious accident; then sent $5,000 more for medical expenses.

"We need to get the word out that people should not wire money to people they speak with on the phone."

--FCPD Det. Tom Polhemus

All three of these local victims were recently duped by scammers who are aggressively preying on seniors. According to Tom Polhemus, a detective with Fairfax County’s Financial Crimes Unit, these are just a few of the hundreds of cases detectives see each year. And once money has been wired, Polhemus said victims have very little recourse and the cases rarely get prosecuted.

"Education is key. We need to get the word out that people should not wire money to people they speak with on the phone," Polhemus said. "The amount of fraud in this area is of great concern to us."

In an effort to help educate seniors, and the community at large, detectives from the FCPD Financial Crimes Unit are available for group presentations. As the scams change from year to year, police are aware of particular details and want to help raise public awareness as well.

"Our detectives are committed to getting the word out about how seniors can protect themselves against con-artists," said Lucy Caldwell, an FCPD public information officer. "They’ve spoken at community meetings, retirement communities, churches and other places, but as the scams change, and as residents age, we need to continue with the education process."

Caldwell said detectives are also interested in giving presentations to those close to seniors - adult children or grandchildren - who can help spread the message.

"Certainly, these scams are not limited to seniors; there are many others that are duped and wire money overseas. Once the money is gone; it’s gone and there is no way to retrieve it. In this tough economy, every dollar matters to most folks; we hate to see these crimes continue," Caldwell said.

To learn more about financial crimes and scams or to report a crime, visit the Financial Crime Online Reporting site of the FCPD website at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/financialcrimes/. To request a group presentation, contact Lucy Caldwell, Public Information Office, at 703-246-3271.