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Each year, thousands of people report incidents of criminal fraud, swindles and confidence games. And it is estimated that for each reported incident, two or more go unreported because the victims are too embarrassed to admit they've been swindled.

Victims

Although anyone can be the target of a con game, elderly persons often become victims. Recent studies show that the average age of confidence game victims is 78 years old. The victims are frequently in declining health, have poor vision, are easily confused and have cash savings hidden in their homes. These victims are sought out because they are less likely to identify the thieves, or to prosecute if the thieves are apprehended.

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Method of Operation

Residential confidence offenders use different methods of operation to locate potential victims. They travel in groups by pick-up trucks, vans, automobiles or on foot during the daylight hours. Very often, the residential con offender observes his victim a day or more prior to the actual encounter. The victim may first be observed from a passing vehicle, by a child selling candy or cookies, or by a female posing as a political canvasser. Once a victim is located, a plan is devised and the offender returns later, armed with information about the victim and the residence.

These types of offenders will strike when an opportunity presents itself. If a potential victim is seen working in the yard, the offenders will take immediate action by entering the unattended, unlocked home to commit a burglary. The con offender's goal is to enter the victim's residence unopposed--for example, as a repairman or utility inspector. Once inside, the victim's attention is held by one or more members of the group, while the others roam through the house taking money, jewelry, collectibles, strong boxes or any concealable items of value.

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Method of Deception

The methods of deception that con offenders use are limited only by their imaginations. Some of the most popular used by adult con artists include the following:

  • Gas company employees
  • Electric company employees
  • Water Department employees
  • Building inspectors
  • City inspectors
  • Telephone repairmen
  • Roofers
  • Chimney repairmen
  • Handymen
  • Cement repairmen
  • Window repairmen
  • Persons offering emergency family assistance

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Prevention and What You Can Do

Here are some simple things you can do to help prevent con offenders from victimizing you and your neighbors:
  • Be observant and alert for strange pickup trucks, vans, station wagons and cars cruising your neighborhood. Also observe strange pickup trucks, vans or station wagons or cars parked in your street or in your alley that contain occupants.
  • Take note of work being done on vehicles parked on the street that do not belong there. Watch for strangers walking down the street with buckets and ladders or going door-to-door.
  • Write down the license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles. Also note the make, model and color of these vehicles and the operator and occupants of suspicious vehicles.
  • If you observe the suspicious vehicles or persons in your neighborhood and think there is a crime in progress, call 911 with a complete description of the incident. If the suspicious vehicles or persons are no longer on the scene but you want to alert the Sheriff's Office, call the non emergency number 1.815.727.8575.
    If you have an elderly person living next door or on your block and you see someone suspicious, call the police. If your parents are elderly and live alone, inform them not to let anyone in their home for repairs without first contacting you or the police.

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Do's and Don'ts to Protect Yourself from Con Games

Don'ts
  • Don't give out personal information, including credit card numbers ( or even just expiration dates ) if you are not making a purchase. Do not give out this information even if you are asked to do so for identification verification purposes, or to prove eligibility for a offer.
  • Don't advertise that you live alone, by the way you list your name in the phone book or put it on your mailbox.
  • Don't be fooled by a trustworthy manner or an official-sounding position of any person who makes an unusual financial proposition to you. Check the person out first- this may require calling the police.
  • Don't be fooled by persons claiming to represent a city or a state government agency. Always ask for their picture I.D.
  • Don't give strangers money or valuables as a "good faith" deposit.
  • Don't sign anything that you don not understand.
Do's
  • Do be wary of strangers with money propositions claiming to have been referred by your friends, relatives or clergy.
  • Do be instantly suspicious of "deals" that require secrecy.
  • Do take a few days to consider money propositions; talk them out with someone close to you.
  • Do notify the police if you come close to being victimized or if you are actually victimized by a con game.
  • Do testify in court, if asked, to help stop this kind of crime.
  • Do get several estimates for every repair job and compare prices and terms. Ask if there is a charge for an estimate before agreeing to let the repair person or company inspect your home.
  • Do make sure you know your sales person's name and the name and address of the company he or she represents.
  • Do ask the firm for references, and check them out. Inspect the finished product.
  • Do contact your local Better Business Bureau to check out the company's reputation before you authorize any work or pay any money.
  • Before you decide to sign a contact, do make sure a completion date is specified and that you know what the job will cost, if work will be subcontracted, if a bond will be posted to protect you against liens on your home, if the contract includes all oral promises made, and if materials to be used are described in detail.
  • Pay for home improvement work with a check or money order, never with cash. You may wish to make installment payments at the beginning of a job, when the work is almost complete, and after the job is finished. Many reputable companies do not require payment until work is completed.
  • Remember... if you or someone else becomes a victim of a confidence game, notify the Sheriff or your local police department.

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Internet Based Phone Scam Via Email

This a very IMPORTANT notice because it alerts you to a scam that is spreading extremely quickly, can cost you $100 or more, and is difficult to avoid unless you are aware of it.

There are lots of different permutations of this scam, but here is how it works:

You receive an email, typically with a subject line of ALERT or Unpaid Account. The message, which is being spread across the Net, says: I am writing to give you a final 24 hours to settle your outstanding account. If I have not received the settlement in full, I will commence legal proceedings without further delay. If you would like to discuss this matter to avoid court action, call Mike Murray at Global Communications at 1.809.496.2700.

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Phone or Pager Scam

You receive a message on your answering machine or your pager which asks you to call a number beginning with area code 809. The reason you're asked to call varies: it can be to receive information about a family member who has been ill, to tell you someone has been arrested or died, to let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc. In each case, you're told to call the 809 number right away.

Since there are so many new area codes these days, people unknowingly return these calls. If you call from the US, you will apparently be charged $25 per-minute! Sometimes the person who answers the phone will speak broken English and pretend not to understand you. Other times, you'll just get a long recorded message. The point is, they will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges. Unfortunately, when you get your phone bill, you'll often be charged more than $100.00.

Here's why it works: The 809 area code is located in the Caribbean. The 809 area code can be used as a "pay-per-call" number, similar to 900 numbers in the U.S. Since 809 is not in the U.S., it is not covered by U.S. regulations of 900 numbers, which require that you be notified and warned of charges and rates involved when you call a "pay-per-call" number. There is also no requirement that the company provide a time period during which you may terminate the call without being charged. Further, whereas many U.S. phones have 900 number blocking ( to avoid these kinds of charges ), 900 number blocking will not prevent calls to the 809 area code.

No matter how you get the message, if you are asked to call a number with an 809 area code that you don't recognize, investigate further and/or disregard the message. Be VERY wary of email or calls asking you to call an 809 area code number.

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