Friday, 24 May 2019

MEIER: A couple of near misses – Clinton Herald

Two of our elderly folks in Clinton County this month narrowly escaped serious financial loss in scams, because some folks they encountered along the way put the brakes on what were runaway trains of fraud.

These cases are a very good lesson on why maybe we should pay attention to warnings from others, even when we don’t know them. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to “always listen to your heart.”

What happened? Here’s the first story. An elderly retired contractor, I’ll call him Paul, received a letter from Canada. The letter writer identified himself as “a financial consultant and auditor” working for an insurance company. He wrote that he wanted to find an heir for a client who died overseas, and left an “unclaimed life insurance benefit” of $8.6 million. I suspect some of you have received a letter like this – plenty of readers have shared them with me. This letter struck a nerve with Paul, because he recognized the name furnished for the deceased as a real cousin of his, whom he last saw in 1953 when they were small boys at a family reunion. Paul reached out to some of his extended family, and learned his cousin passed away several years ago, but with whereabouts unknown.

Paul corresponded with the Canadian “auditor”, who furnished Paul with an official-looking death certificate from England, and other documents. The auditor proposed he make the insurance claim look legal in exchange for 30 percent of the claim. And he wanted Paul to send almost $5,000, wiring it to a bank in England.

Well, gosh, all this sounded plausible to Paul, and he tried very hard to satisfy this demand. He tried sending the money through Moneygram. The agent told him “fraud – we’re not sending it”. Paul went to his bank to wire the money. A bank officer told him the same thing – and called me. I invited Paul to see me. He did, and after a long talk, he seemed persuaded someone tried to scam him.

In the second case, a rural Lost Nation widow came so, so close to losing $14,500 in the old reliable grandparent scam. This woman, and we’ll call her Belle, got a call at 7:30 in the morning from someone who sounded like her grandson. The caller told her he rear-ended someone in Pennsylvania, and needed $14,500 to settle the accident out of court, otherwise he faced charges. The caller warned Belle not to tell anyone. Belle hustled to her bank and withdrew the money in cash. The bank officers warned her several times, but she refused to heed any advice from them. Belle received instructions from the “prosecutor” in Pennsylvania to package the cash in a shoebox, and await a visit from a UPS driver that afternoon. She needed to turn over the shoebox to the driver. Late in the afternoon, a UPS driver arrived. Very fortunately for Belle, the driver asked a couple of questions about the package delivery. Belle seemed flustered, causing the driver to ask more questions, finally pulling the whole story from Belle.

The driver asked Belle to open the box and remove the cash, which she did. He took the box, and went back to his route. His intervention saved Belle a lot of money.

Belle’s township in western Clinton County seems an attractive target for the grandparent scam crooks. In April 2017, another widow living less than three miles from Belle lost $8,000 under exactly the same circumstances, sending cash away with a FedEx driver.

Most of the crooks running scams prefer gift cards or wire transfer services to collect their loot, so to hear of one wanting cash is an outlier, but we do see it.

We can look at these cases from two perspectives. The first is to pay attention when your friends or the professionals you deal with in money transactions ask questions and warn you of danger ahead. The second perspective is to pay attention when you see someone else, a friend, client, or customer, who seems hell-bent on some oddball transaction. If it seems suspicious, don’t be afraid to speak up and warn someone. And you might need to be very direct in your warning, but that’s how the two folks I wrote about here avoided a big financial hit – someone got involved.


Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, at 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at [email protected].

Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.


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