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Published: Saturday, 6/28/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Sylvania man, 85, bilked out of $28,000, police report

BY NATALIE TRUSSO CAFARELLO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An 85-year-old Sylvania man was bilked out of $28,000 after a caller told him he won the Mega Millions lottery, a matter now under investigation by Sylvania police and the FBI.

The story is typical of scams used regularly to steal money from vulnerable people. Officials urge people to be careful before agreeing to give anyone money, especially strangers on the telephone.

The Sylvania victim, who declined to comment to The Blade, told police he was contacted by phone by someone claiming to be a representative of the multistate Mega Millions lottery who told him he had won a jackpot. The caller requested money to send the prize, a tactic such scammers often use.

The Better Business Bureau and police provide these tips to thwart telephone scammers:

■ Never pay anything to claim a prize.

■ When someone calls claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, a relative in need of money, or anyone requesting money with urgency, don’t do anything and don’t provide any information. Check out the story first. Call the Better Business Bureau or police. Caller identification of a phone number can be manipulated to represent any government agency or person.

■ Be skeptical about personal information posted on social media sites like Facebook. Thieves get such information and use it to falsely represent themselves.

■ Urge elderly parents or relatives to mention getting such calls and remind them to never pay anything to win a prize.

Determination of where this particular scam‘‍s calls came from will guide how the case is handled, Captain Schnoor said last week, noting that he had no information about their source or where the wired money was sent. If the call originated in another country, federal agents will handle the case.The victim sent an initial $500 payment by wire transfer to the caller, who then called back repeatedly seeking more money. In total, the victim sent $28,000 in March to the caller before the swindle was reported to police June 8. He told police he did not know the promised cash prize’‍s amount.

Sylvania police Capt. Rick Schnoor said such crimes‘‍ perpetrators establish a “hook,” promising winnings will be sent once the caller is paid. Scammers often call back saying the initial payment was not received and ask for more money, he said.

In Ohio, it is a third-degree felony to deceive an elderly person out of funds more than $7,500 and less than $150,000. If convicted, the punishment is one to five years in prison.

The phone scam is similar to Internet schemes generated overseas, often purporting to be from Nigeria, in which emailers claim to be a friend or relative of the intended victim and say they need money to be released from jail or allowed to leave the country.

Other emailers describe needing help moving large amounts of money out of their native countries and promise to share some of those funds once they get up-front cash to pay for the transfers.

Captain Schnoor said the last phone scam circulated in Sylvania occurred several years ago involved a caller who contacted elderly people using a common name and claimed to be a grandchild in need of money.

Dick Eppstein, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, said his agency is notified of such scams every day. He said elderly people often are targeted because they hesitate to report being scammed to their children for fear the family may believe they cannot live independently or are no longer mentally sound.

Mr. Eppstein, whose office is on King’‍s Pointe Road in Sylvania Township, said the crooks, usually overseas, are slick, top-notch professionals.

“People think that someone just falls for this, but they are very smart people that fall for this,” he explained. “The crooks know all about you. There is no more privacy. So, they push all the right buttons.”

Such swindlers use panic and pressure to entice people to hand over money in a rush, he said, usually via Western Union or Green Dot debit cards, an increasingly popular means available for purchase at drug or grocery stores.

The thieves can access the cash with just the numbers on the back of the card.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356, or ntrusso@theblade.com, or on Twitter @natalietrusso.



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