Don’t let con artists win the day

Sep 15th, 2014 | By | Category: ABCs of Fraud

By Bud McGinnis

When the ABCs of Fraud program was launched by the Volunteer Centre of Toronto in 1996, it was said that $100 million was being taken by fraudsters and scam artists annually across Canada.  Moreover, 80 percent of that sum was taken from those citizens 60 years of age and older.  Today, 18 years later, losses are now said to total $10 billion.  Clearly society and the police services are losing this war.  The internet and “organized crime” have played a major role in this explosive increase of losses.

The Rotary Club of West Ottawa brought the ABCs of Fraud program to Ottawa with (and still have) the full support of the Ottawa Police Service.  Those officers were well aware of the problem and recognized that having an educated public was the only way to effectively stop losses due to con artists.  Sadly, the public-at-large is still susceptible to these smooth-talking shysters with their promises of high payoffs for minimum investments – promises that are “too good to be true!”

Despite the best efforts of the police service and the numerous presentations given and articles published, fraudsters and scam artists are winning the day.  Indeed, it’s such an attractive type of crime that drug dealers and break-and-enter thieves are abandoning their old activities and moving into the con man’s territory. The reasons are three-fold.  First, the returns are greater. Second, the wait for cash is generally shorter.  Third, the penalties meted out if caught are less severe.

So why are fraudsters and scam artists winning in this competition with honest citizens and the police? Generally, people, whether young or old, are reluctant to admit that they have been victimized.  For everyone it’s a matter of embarrassment.  In some cases the financial loss may be considered too small to even worry about.  Accordingly, there is a reluctance to report such occurrences to the police and it’s been suggested that not more than five percent of such events are reported.  It follows, therefore, that if no one reports these events, the police are unaware that a problem exists and the criminal can continue to victimize unsuspecting citizens without fear. Conversely, if such events are reported, the police can build a case and take appropriate action.  With seniors, however, there is also fear that reporting such occurrences could result in loss of independence because children might question the parent’s ability to continue managing his or her own affairs. No one wants to lose control!

Seniors are often selected as targets because they have certain characteristics in common.  First, they grew up in an honest society and are more trusting than younger people. When we were young we never locked our doors; now we must lock them even when we are at home. Moreover, a handshake sealed a deal; there was no need for lawyers or witnesses. Second, we are usually at home and available. Third, we are polite by training and disinclined to hang up the phone when someone is speaking or close the door if someone is still talking. Unfortunately, failing to cut off discussion today can result in a decision that is detrimental to your wealth.
These con artists are persistent, polished and professional in their pursuit of victims, and given the chance will convince one against his will.

Two other factors attract the con artist. Because we’re retired we’re seen to have money and the crook wants it.  In addition, many seniors have lost their life-long partner, and are lonely. We’re susceptible, therefore, to a friendly voice or a smiling face, one that is pleasant and really seems to want to help.  The fraudster is only too happy to become your friend and confidante before he robs you.

Every week there are reports in the news of honest citizens being victimized.  Not long ago the police reported on an event where a senior home owner lost $250,000 in a home repair scheme.  In another instance, an elderly lady almost lost $70,000 in another home repair/renovation deal. These are substantial sums and it’s important to protect our wealth against these fraudsters and scammers.  Indeed, crooks select properties that are inhabited by seniors for special attention.  In some instances the “tradesman” will just take the down payment and run. In other cases, he does the work poorly, then accepts full payment and departs.  A third option is to commence the job and then, part way through, just pack up and leave. When he leaves the driveway torn up and unusable, or the roof with all the shingles removed, the homeowner has an even greater problem, one that no one likes to contemplate.

The home owner must recognize, therefore, that he or she is a potential target and prepare accordingly. If a stranger comes to the door offering free inspections, or noting need for urgent repairs on the property, repairs that he can take care of for a fraction of the going rate, think very carefully. Ask yourself, why does this stranger want to do this for me? There’s really only one answer. He wants your money! If you’re uncertain, discuss the matter with a trusted friend or relative.  Should you then decide that the work is needed, get three quotes specifying the work to be done, the materials to be used, the intended time frame, and the full cost. Compare, consider, and only then sign the contract.  If required, a ten percent down payment at time of signing is usually considered adequate.

In closing, we make the offer of a free presentation at your convenience to any group wishing to learn more about frauds and scams and how to avoid being victimized. In Ottawa just dial 613-564-5555 and leave a message.  A Rotarian will call back to make arrangements.  Whenever possible a police officer participates with Rotarians in these presentations.

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