In the wake of several attempted and a few successful scams targeting senior citizens, Brookfield police have reached out to a handful of local businesses to emphasize the need to be on the lookout for signs that a con might be playing out in front of them.
During the past several years, senior citizens particularly in Brookfield and North Riverside have been the targets of telephone scammers, who use a variety of tactics to separate them from their money.
Some are attempts at intimidation, in which callers tell their intended victims that they’ve run afoul of the Internal Revenue Service and must immediately pay thousands of dollars in order to avoid arrest.
Another ploy is for a caller to pretend he (it’s almost always a male caller) is a relative — often a grandson — of the intended target. Those callers claim to be in some sort of legal trouble and need $1,000 or more to pay a lawyer. Often the phone is passed to someone posing as a lawyer, who tells the victim how to send the payment.
That’s where the local businesses can help prevent the scams, say police.
“Our thought was to have these businesses be more aware that it was a problem and to train employees to contact us if they think a senior is being scammed,” said Brookfield Deputy Police Chief Edward Petrak.
The targets of the scams are often instructed to go to local retail stores, such as pharmacies, to purchase gift cards that can be converted into cash by others if the purchaser passes along redemption codes printed on the cards.
Or, the scammer may instruct someone to go to a currency exchange to wire money, often to an address in a foreign country.
In cases where a scammer is successful, he’ll call back multiple times demanding more money, which requires multiple trips to the store or currency exchange.
In one instance in North Riverside within one week in May 2014, an elderly couple wired 32 Moneygrams totaling $64,000 to an address in Haiti after receiving a call about a grandson who was in legal trouble in Mexico.
Brookfield police had two similar cases in February and March 2016, one of which resulted in a senior citizen being taken for almost $2,000. In the other case, the scam was foiled by an alert employee at the CVS store on Broadway Avenue, who intervened when an elderly couple attempted to purchase phone cards that could be redeemed for cash.
In March, officers on the Brookfield Police Department’s day shift visited the five local businesses where seniors most likely would go to obtain cash if they were being scammed — First National Bank of Brookfield, Citibank, Brookfield Currency Exchange and the two CVS stores — and gave them a letter and two recent Brookfield news reports describing the scams.
“Our seniors are going to be using places that are close to home,” Petrak said. “Hopefully, businesses will keep an eye out for them.”
Donna Ridderhoff, the store manager of the CVS on Broadway Avenue, said she trains employees to recognize when a customer may be a possible scam victim.
“Usually when someone comes in and wants a high dollar amount on a gift card, it’s a red flag, especially if it’s an older couple,” Ridderhoff said. “I train all of our employees that when these kinds of things happen to call a manager up here before they make the transaction.”
Sandra Matson, vice president of operations at First National Bank of Brookfield, said the bank provides security training for its employees, including information on the various scams.
“We’ve seen the grandparent scam, the lottery scam, the scam where someone is sent a check and then told to wire money back,” Matson said. We’ve come across all of them.”
Because many of their elderly depositors are regular customers, said Matson, employees get to know their habits and red flags appear if there’s a break in the routine.
“Anytime there’s a large withdrawal or something not in the norm for these individuals, it’s always a huge issue,” Matson said. “We have good relationships with our customers. We know our customers’ patterns and activities.”