SAN DIEGO–A group of scam artists are targeting the elderly in San Diego county, particularly seniors in the Hispanic community.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Aging and Independence Services Director Ellen Schmeding said Monday Adult Protective Services and law enforcement agencies around the county are currently investigating several reports of this scam; at least two have occurred in South Bay.
“Sadly, seniors too often fall prey to heartless scam artists looking to make a fast buck,” said DA Dumanis. “Our elderly population can be too trusting and by the time they tell someone something’s wrong, their money is long gone.”
The “Pigeon Drop Scam,” is a confidence trick where the victim is persuaded to give up a sum of money to secure a larger sum of money from supposed lottery winnings. These scams are often performed by one or more criminals in a retail shopping area or other public places.
There are many variations of this scam, but recent cases usually involve three suspects: a Hispanic female in her 50’s; a Hispanic male in his 30’s; and a third suspect who only interacts with victims over the phone.
The suspects approach victims in different public areas in the community, such as a trolley station or laundromat. They engage with them, often in Spanish, telling the victim that one of the suspects has won the lottery but needs help to collect their winnings. One of the suspects calls the “lottery official” which is when the third scam artist says on the phone that good faith money is, in fact needed in order to receive the winnings.
The suspects then convince the victim that they’re just borrowing his/her money and it will be returned. The suspects also promise to share a portion of their lottery winnings with the victim. The scammers present “good faith” money of their own to convince the victim that this is real. The suspects then take the victim to his or her home or bank to get money or jewelry. Once the suspects have the money, they drop the victim off at a different location like the bank or liquor store and they are gone.
If you are approached by someone claiming to have won the lottery, or that a large amount of money was found and that person is offering you part of the earnings in exchange for “good faith” money or valuables, here’s what to do:
· Don’t pay for found money.
· Make sure the people you’re talking to are speaking a language you understand.
· Don’t be persuaded to go to the bank to withdraw money.
· Don’t take them to your home.
· Tell them you’re not interested and walk away.
Victims who’ve lost money from a scam should call law enforcement or the County’s Elder Abuse Reporting Line at 1-(800) 510-2020.
Earlier this year, DA Dumanis along with County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, Health and Human Services Director Nick Macchione and AIS Director Schmeding rolled out an outreach campaign including TV spots and a Senior Scam Stopper toolkit aimed at educating San Diego’s older residents and their families about how they can protect themselves from a myriad of financial scams online, over the phone, and in the mail.
“Raising awareness is one of the best ways to prevent a scam from ever taking place,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “We all need to be on the lookout, especially when it comes to protecting vulnerable family members.”
“Talk to your family and friends and let them know about this scam so they don’t lose their hard-earned money,” said County Supervisor Greg Cox, whose District One includes South Bay.
The “Don’t Get Hooked” Toolkit is now available in Spanish, with examples of additional scams targeting the Hispanic community, such as the “Pigeon Drop Scam” and “Immigration Scams,” along with tips and local resources to help avoid becoming a victim. There is also a TV spot currently running in local Spanish-language channels, in which Father Michael, a senior scam victim shares his story.
“By having this Scam Toolkit in Spanish, Hispanic seniors and their families now have a comprehensive resource they can hold onto as a reminder to remain vigilant and the tools to protect themselves,” DA Dumanis said.
You can get a free copy of the Spanish Senior Scam Stopper toolkit “¡Que No Lo Engañen!” at the DA’s Office in downtown San Diego or in Chula Vista.