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Early last month, two of our elderly citizens were scammed out of over $65,000 by criminals who played on their emotions — and I can’t begin to express how angry I am over this. The sad truth is that these victims will likely never get their money back, even if we can identify and arrest the scammers.

On March 13, an 85-year-old Winter Haven woman told detectives she was called by someone claiming to be her son. The caller claimed he had been arrested after a traffic crash and needed her help to be released. He gave her the name and number of his fake-lawyer, whom she called.

The victim ended up making two separate cash withdrawals of $18,800, and handing it over to a "courier" sent to her by the fake-lawyer. She eventually reached her son and realized none of that was true. Unfortunately, by then her money was gone.

Then, on March 23, an 83-year-old Winter Haven woman's daughter called us after seeing that her mother had withdrawn $30,000 from the bank in two days. The elderly victim told her daughter she had been contacted by someone claiming to be her grandson's attorney who told her the grandson had been arrested and needed bail money.

Unfortunately, by the time the victim’s daughter became involved, this woman’s money was also gone.

Please read our tips on how to avoid being scammed this way — and please share the information with your relatives and loved ones:

  • Don’t be ruled by emotions, and resist the pressure to act quickly.
  • Contact a trusted family member who can confirm whether the caller’s story is true or not. Even if a story might seem true, verify its accuracy.
  • Try contacting the real child or grandchild at a number you know is accurate.
  • Remember, scammers ask for secrecy because they know if you call to verify, you’ll discover the scam.
  • Ask questions of the caller that would be difficult for them to answer, like what is your mother’s birthday or what is your pet’s name.
  • One tactic the scammers use is to ask, “Grandma?” at the beginning of the call; when the victim replies with, “Is this you [name of grandchild?]” the scammers answer “Yes,” proving that the scammers don’t even need real family members’ names to get away with this crime.
  • Be stingy and don’t give the caller any personal information.
  • Contact a trusted family member or friend before making any rash decisions concerning your money.
  • Check on your elderly family members regularly.
  • Family members and banking institutions: look for unusual bank transactions or withdrawals of elderly family members and customers. Ask questions and be vigilant for fraud.
  • Immediately contact your financial institution if you find any unusual or unexpected deposits, transfers, or withdrawals.

If you have detected any criminal or fraudulent activity, notify the company and/or banking institution where it happened. Also, notify the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) and local law enforcement.

Request a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). You can order them online from www.annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports or call 1-877-322-8228.

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