Financial scams hit senior citizens in South King County

In this troubled economy the promise of quick and easy money is highly appealing, said Suzanne Thompson, an elder law attorney and registered nurse. She is an advocate for senior citizens, working to protect people who find themselves the victims of fraud. After working as a registered nurse, she spent two years with the Department of Social and Health Services as an adviser for the organization and as a litigator against people who abuse adults. “After doing that I realized I could take it to the community,” she said.

In this troubled economy the promise of quick and easy money is highly appealing, said Suzanne Thompson, an elder law attorney and registered nurse.

She is an advocate for senior citizens, working to protect people who find themselves the victims of fraud.

After working as a registered nurse, she spent two years with the Department of Social and Health Services as an adviser for the organization and as a litigator against people who abuse adults.

“After doing that I realized I could take it to the community,” she said.

In September she started a private practice, which enables her to work closer with people and issues in the area.

“My skills and knowledge are better used in the public sector,” she said.

Looking ahead, she is optimistic about new measures aimed at protecting vulnerable adults.

Thompson said there are three assisted living communities in Sumner and Bonney Lake and each is a “private pay” facility, making residents more likely to be targeted because scammers are aware they have money available, Thompson said.

Sumner is a likely target for such crimes because there are several assisted living and retirement communities nearby.

Thompson said this type of fraud is not only aimed at elderly but other vulnerable adults.

Recently, a client reported he and his wife were targets of a scam involving a stolen check.

The scam works like this: A check is sent through the mail with a letter stating the recipient is a winner in the “Consumer Promotion Draw.” According to the letter, the promotion draw is organized for customers of major retail stores throughout the United States and Canada. The letter lists specific stores, giving the illusion the drawing is legitimate, Thompson said.

The letter states a second check – this one for $250,000 – will be delivered by a courier, naming legitimate companies. The first check is valid, but stolen. Recipients are told the sum of the first check is for the applicable Canadian tax on the winnings. The letter comes from Canada, which is why there is supposedly a Canadian tax.

If the scam is a success, the perpetrator uses someone to take the risk of cashing the stolen check.

Sumner resident Norm Fenton was one of the clients targeted in a mail scam. He and his wife knew something was suspicious when they noticed the company name on the check did not match the name of the company stating they were winners.

“We had to read it a couple times, because the check was very legitimate,” he said.

Fenton was told the prize was being sent over that morning but a caller needed to verify the address. He said the voice on the phone told him to send $731 for shipping and handling immediately through Western Union.

At 6 a.m. Nov. 4, the couple was told over they phone they’d also won a car, which was being sent to their home along with the $250,000 and a U.S. marshal would be accompanying the money and vehicle.

Fenton said the caller insisted the money be wired that day to claim the prizes; if not, the caller wanted the name of a church or charity the money could be donated to.

The caller had a long spiel and Fenton told him he would call back. Fenton told the man he wanted to have his lawyer look over the paperwork, at which point the man became angry and his approach became aggressive.

When Fenton said he was skeptical, the caller’s attitude became beligerent. Fenton ended the conversation, but the calls didn’t stop then. Fenton received approximately 12 calls within 30 minutes, he said.

Thompson said callers are persistent in order to convince someone to send money.

“They want to pressure you,” she said.

The more pressure they put on a victim, the more likely it may be to persuade them to wire money and sometimes people divulge their bank account numbers. As soon as the money is wired, or an account number is gathered, it’s too late for the victim, Thompson said, because after the transfer, any contact information provided by the scammer becomes useless.

“Usually what you see is when someone does the wiring the scammers change all communication,” Thompson said. “That’s probably the biggest frustration.”

Her client informed the scammer he had no intention of sending any money and was told he would not be receiving a prize.

Thompson said had the check been cashed, her clients could have faced punishment. She said the scammers took a step further by attempting to impersonate law enforcement.

“What’s frightening is, here they mention the U.S. marshals,” she said.

John Galle, Sumner police chief, said there is no penalty for saying one is a U.S. marshal, but it becomes a crime when someone tries to use the title to gain something, such as money.

“Times are tough right now for people. I would never cash it but I can see where it would be tempting,” he said.

Fenton has some time-honored advice for anyone suspicious of an offer.

“If it seems too good to be true it probably is,” he said.

Reach Chaz Holmes at cholmes@courierherald.com or 360-802-8208.

If you or someone you know has been or is being financially exploited, assistance is available by contacting:

• The Department of Social and Health Services, which has a 24 hours a day, seven days a week help line, 1-866-ENDHARM;

• The Federal Trade Commission, which has a number specifically used to report phone fraud, 1-877-FTC-HELP; a Web site on phone fraud is available at ftc.gov/phonefraud.

• The office of the Attorney General consumer protection line at 1-800-551-4636.

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