A news release recently issued by the Ridgway-based state police cautions the public of to be aware of a new mail fraud scam which can steal both their money and their identity.
The release explains that a letter from a so-called "Senior Advisory Center in Harrisburg" has been sent to some area residents. The fake letter says that eligible applicants may receive up to $900 when they send in a response form accompanied by a check for $39. This tactic is identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an "Advanced Fee Scheme," where essentially a victim pays a sum of money expecting a greater amount in return.
By sending a check, the individual has made their personal information,including their financial information and bank account number as listed on the check, available to the criminals involved. This type of "found money" scheme is common, but the elderly in particular are targeted by them.
Trooper Bruce Morris, public information officer with the Ridgway PSP, said he forwarded the letter which originated from state police offices in Clarion and Cameron counties.
"The hook is its 'Senior Advisory Council' or whatever they use, it's just targeting senior citizens with a name they would think legitimate or reputable-sounding. Usually the older segment of our population, when they get anything in the mail that sounds like it's legitimate, they're more susceptible to go ahead and respond to it. The older generation is more along the lines of believing that information because it looks official, they don't recognize it as being a ruse, and that's why," Morris said.
The FBI says that senior citizens are more often targeted because they are more likely than the rest of the population to have savings, own their home outright, and/or have excellent credit.
According to the FBI website, "Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don't know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
"When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators."
In investigating a scam like the "Senior Advisory Center" scheme, Morris said there is a particular process and protocol followed by police and applied to the tracking down of those responsible. With mail-based scams like this, Morris said the money needs to be sent to a physical location, which can make it easier to trace the activity.
"There still has to be an end game where they are going to be receiving the funds. That's how law enforcement tracks them, there has to be a physical location where they are picking up whatever is sent in or they have to have some kind of account where it's being deposited. The only problem is [once] they start the scam you got to get to them right away because if they collect, they get a windfall profit right from the beginning, [and then] they shut it off and disappear. The big thing is getting to them right away," Morris said.
Pick up a copy of the Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.