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Phone Scams Targeting Seniors Across Chicago, Police Warn

By Linze Rice | September 28, 2017 1:19pm | Updated on September 29, 2017 11:33am
 Senior citizens have been the target of phone scams, police warn.
Senior citizens have been the target of phone scams, police warn.
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EDGEWATER — Senior citizens across Chicago are the target of a rash of phone scams aimed at gaining access to their money, according to police. 

At least four fake scenarios are being presented to elderly residents over the phone: a sweepstakes scam, "grandparent" scam, lottery fraud and computer virus scam, police said. 

The calls are often made from overseas, but technology used by scammers disguises the number so it appears to be local, or within the U.S., according to police. 

A recent example of the sweepstakes scam occurred Tuesday in the 6000 block of North Sheridan Road in Edgewater when an 89-year-old woman was contacted by phone and told she'd won $3 million in a sweepstakes contest.

In this scenario, the callers tell victims they must pay taxes, insurance, or shipping and handling fees in order to collect the prize, however, real sweepstakes rules don't require any payment, police said.

The woman was told multiple times a day over the course of a year to wire money from her bank account to Indiana, which the woman did at least five times since May, losing a "large sum" of money, police said.

One particularly cruel scheme is the grandparent scam, which preys on victims' emotions and comes in several forms, police said.

Callers pose as a grandchild or family member and plead for money, citing dire circumstances. 

Conversely, the caller may say that the victim's grandchild or relative was arrested and requires bond money, or was in an accident and needs to pay the hospital, police said.

Seniors are asked to send money via Western Unions or Money Gram.

A 77-year-old woman became an unwitting victim of the grandparent scam on Sept. 12 in the Portage Park neighborhood. She was told her son was in jail and agreed to pay for his release. 

Police said the scammer was a woman in her early 20s who later reached out to the woman again, saying that the bond increased. 

Both times the victim met the woman in person to exchange money. 

The scammer tried a third time, but because the woman was out of money, did not try contacting her again, police said.

Prior to that, on Aug. 21, a 51-year-old man in the Back of the Yards neighborhood fell victim to a lottery fraud scam, according to police. 

In the lottery scam, the victim is approached with what appears to be a winning lottery ticket, but is told that they are unable to cash it for various reasons, like not having a bank account or not being a U.S. citizen.

Scammers say they will split the winnings with the victim if he or she can front them money, even taking the victim to their bank to withdraw cash.

In the August incident, the victim was approached by two men in a black SUV who appeared to be Hispanic and between the ages of 55-65 and 65-75, and told they had a winning ticket that they couldn't claim.

The victim gave the men a large amount of money and "the offenders made up an excuse to flee the scene, leaving the victim unaware of what just occurred," according to police.

When it comes to the computer virus scan, victims are contacted via phone by someone claiming to be from a legitimate technology company like Microsoft or Apple and tell seniors that their account was hacked, but for a fee can be repaired remotely. 

The scammers then obtain the victim's credit card information.

This occurred recently to an 82-year-old-man, who got a call from someone claiming to be an internet provider around 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 at his home in the 100 block of East Bellevue Place in the Gold Coast neighborhood.

The senior was told to buy gift cards and call the scammer back with the card numbers and pin, essentially taking money from the victim, according to police.

Personal and financial information should not be given out over the phone to anyone you don't know, police warn.

The phone scams are just one way police said seniors are being targeted by financial predators.

Those who initiate the scams are "creative" and can leave "our most vulnerable citizens with little or no money," according to police.

"Fraudsters target the elderly because most are willing to listen and are very trusting," police said in a written warning regarding the scams. 

Police say victims also should not agree to meet anyone in person to exchange money following a phone call.

Anyone with more information, or if you believe you have been targeted, should call police's Financial Crimes Unit at 312-746-9661.