MARQUETTE - Marquette Police Department Detective Capt. Gordon Warchock had a rapt audience at the Marquette Senior Center recently.
Warchock gave a presentation on scams and frauds that target the older population. And he knows of what he speaks.
"Daily, I read all our reports," Warchock said. "And I read the Internet to follow trends of what's happening to seniors. The biggest scam right now is an attempt to defraud by saying the senior has won an award or a lottery.
"What always changes once we put on an alert is the name or some of the circumstance of the scam."
Warchock said the senior could be notified by mail, by telephone or by the Internet that he or she has won some sort of lottery or prize.
"They might say you've won a car and a million dollars," he said. "Then they tell you once you do this one thing, the prize will be released to you. One of the key elements is they will want you to Western Union money to a certain location. Western Union is a reputable company but unfortunately criminals use it to perpetuate crime."
Any time a request to send money via Western Union is made, that should be a red flag to the senior, Warchock said.
"We encourage you to contact law enforcement before you do anything else to see if it is a scam," he said. "Anytime you contact me, I will tell you it's a scam if you think it is. And 99.9 percent of the time, it is. I have never told someone to go ahead and do what's been asked when they call me."
Warchock said criminals have a variety of methods they use to obtain phone numbers, addresses and email information.
"Seniors are more trusting so that's why they are targeted," he said. "Think about it. Say their scam is to get someone to send $3,000. They might do 100 victims a day and if they only get one person to send the money, that's $3,000 they've made."
Even with unlisted telephone numbers, scam artists will find a way to contact people.
"Nothing's private any more," Warchock said. "If they want to find it, they will."
A more recent twist to scams is use of Internet sites used to legitimately sell items.
"Someone will contact you to say they will buy the item you're selling and they are going to send you a check," he said. "It will look really good at the time but it will be for more than you're asking. They may say 'my secretary wrote the check for $1,000 too much, so wire me back the $1,000' or they may ask you to hand over $1,000 to someone who's picking the item up for them.
"They want you to deposit their check. It will take the bank several days to clear the check and by the time it comes back as counterfeit, you could be out that kind of money. So any time you get a check in the mail with the request to send them back some money, it's a scam."
Combinations of these sorts of scams are being honed by crooks, Warchock said.
"We recently had a lady in Marquette who was contacted and told she had won a lottery and car but had to pay the taxes," he said. "She mailed out one package with $20,000 cash in it before her bank called us, but we were able to recover a second package. But half her money was gone with no chance to recover it."
In general, Warchock advised the audience of seniors to check with authorities if they had any questions about offers that sound to good to be true.
"The scams are constantly changing," he said. "And I think it's only going to get worse."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.