Attempts to scam elderly residents out of thousands of dollars have led the South Burlington Police Department to issue an alert and educate potential victims.

On July 31, officers were called to the Target store in the University Mall after an elderly woman was reported trying to buy $18,000 worth of gift cards. The woman told police that she received a phone call saying her Social Security number had been compromised and the caller told her she needed to buy the gift cards to fix the problem.

“We were fortunate enough in that case that we prevented the scam from occurring,” said South Burlington Police Sgt. Dennis Ward in an interview Monday. “Last week, another resident had an issue with gift cards.”

In the latest scam, the caller will say they are from the U.S. Marshalls Service or the federal government and that the victim’s Social Security number was compromised and they need to act immediately. The caller then tells the victim to buy a certain number of gift cards worth a certain amount, and then to call back with the gift card codes.

“And as soon as they give those codes, the money is gone,” Ward said. “Then they’re out thousands of dollars and they can’t recover.”

Ward started making presentations to senior care homes in the city to educate elderly residents about potential scam attempts. Ward has visited the Pines Senior Living and Allenwood Senior Living, and said he will visit more facilities if possible.

“I felt we needed to address the issue,” he said.

There are many scams that target the elderly. Over the last two years, police departments nationwide have issued scam warnings where elderly residents receive a late night phone call from someone saying they are the victim’s grandson or granddaughter and that they are in jail or hospitalized. The caller says they need money to either be bailed out or to pay a hospital bill before they can be released. The caller also tells the victim not to call their parents.

Ward said the key to the success of these scams is the urgency the caller creates and the vulnerability of the victim.

“All of these scams try to create a sense of urgency, and you don’t need that,” Ward said. “Time is on your side. If your grandson is in jail or the hospital, he’s being taken care of. Hang up and call the parents or call the police.”

Another scam uses the popular Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes as a vehicle, calling to say the victim has won a large amount of money, but that in order to receive the prize, they must first send in a check for a certain amount of money.

Publisher’s Clearing House is such a common scam target that the company has its own scam prevention number for potential victims to call and check the legitimacy of a prize alert.

Ward said people should know that Publisher’s Clearing House will not call, they will show up at the door with balloons, just like in the television commercials. The Internal Revenue Service will not call, it will send any notifications via U.S. Mail. The same goes for other government agencies.

Any other senior living facilities interested in having a scam presentation done should contact Sgt. Dennis Ward at 846-4202.

Ward said he hopes more people will learn to be vigilant about these scams targeting a vulnerable population.

“These are your trusting older folks who came from a time when a handshake was good enough,” he said. “A lot of them have nest eggs. Even if it stops one person from losing their money, it’s worth it.”

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