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Quick dent repairs are the latest fraud to target vulnerable seniors
By Dan Aznoff
Special to the Reporter
Parking lots at strip malls across the city have apparently become the newest hunting grounds for scam artists who prey on unsuspecting senior victims.
Bellevue Police Det. Shelby Shearer said the latest scheme to bilk seniors takes place when a person who identifies themselves as an employee of a local auto body shop approaches the senior when they return to their car after shopping. The “employee” offers to repair small dents or dings on the vehicle for “cash and off the books.”
“They may or not complete the repair, but they always demand immediate payment upfront for the job,” said Shearer. “They intimidate the senior and will offer to follow them to the bank or home to collect their money.”
The exact number of scams is difficult to determine, according to Shearer, because the victims are often too embarrassed to report the incident to the police. He estimated the ploy could be taking place as often as 3-5 times every week. The detective emphasized that the bill for the “minor repairs” can often total thousands of dollars.
Shearer explained that seniors with limited incomes are often targeted with these “too good to be true low-cost opportunities.”
Lt. Lisa Patricelli in Crime Prevention said her department recently completed an extensive investigation into one man who allegedly defrauded several unsuspecting elderly women in Bellevue on a bogus landscaping ploy that froze their assets “to the tune of several million dollars.”
“This so-called landscaper told the women that he had their benefits suspended and would only release them when he had been paid in full.” said Patricelli.
Patricelli said publicity has helped to curtail many of the more common scams, but that criminals continue to look for ways to prey on unsuspecting residents. According to the AARP, scam artists who prey on seniors are becoming more bold with their schemes.
Many of the ploys use the emotional trigger of a grandchild in trouble or the credibility of an existing charity. Seniors with grandchildren in college reported losses of more than $110 million last year, according to the AARP. The organization urges seniors to never give money to telephone solicitations unless they have personal knowledge of the charity or the person on the other end of the telephone.
It is not unusual for scam artists to use social media or the obituaries in local newspapers to collect the names of family members, locations and even travel schedules.
“These people have no scruples,” said Patricelli. “But that’s pretty obvious based on who they choose to victimize.”
Seniors suspicious about a proposition they believe may be too good to be true or believe they have been the victim of fraud are encouraged to call the Tip Line at 425-452-546 or contact the department by email at PDTipline@bellevuewa.gov.
Dan Aznoff is a freelance writer and member of the Bellevue Network on Aging.