Some knock at the door; others use the phone; and, increasingly, there is an element that seeks to take advantage via emails offering a share of an African prince's fortune or a Canadian sweepstakes prize.
Their prey, sadly, are often the elderly.
Up in the Merrimack Valley recently, two Maine men were arrested for engaging in a scam that revealed just how vulnerable some in our elderly population can be.
Billy Adams, 34, of Saco and Edmond Wormwood, 33, of Biddeford were arrested by state police in Maine on a warrant from Haverhill. They are charged with larceny by continuous scheme, accused of scamming an elderly man out of $90,000 by charging him for odd jobs they did around his home. They and a companion showed up at the 92-year-old man's Haverhill home in February in a red GMC pickup with Maine license plates and offered to do small jobs, police said. They began with some tree work, got into painting railings and cleaning the basement, all along charging an exorbitant amount of money for substandard work, according to police.
Police were tipped to the scam by the victim's bank, which had noticed an irregular spending pattern and froze his accounts. Kudos to the bank for watching out for its customer.
Other times, these predators arrive via the computer. These scams are known within the police community as "Nigerian letters" because in the past they often originated in that African country. But today these letters can be sent from any of a number of countries in which the predators feel they are safe from American law enforcement.
"Don't be fooled," the Better Business Bureau warns. "These promises to make you rich are never true. The purpose of this scam is to drain your bank account, not fill it up." A variation on this scam are those emails purporting to be from a friend or relative who claims to be out of the country and in desperate need of funds. In most cases, that friend or relative's email address book has been hacked by someone who is using it in an attempt to defraud that person's acquaintances.
The consumer protection agency offers the following simple and logical tips:
Never provide personal information, like bank account or Social Security numbers, to strangers.
Avoid questionable communications. Simply delete any suspect emails, and never click on any links they might contain.
Always be cautious if a stranger hands you a check, and never wire money to a stranger under any circumstance.
Don't agree to travel to meet someone you don't know.
If you get suspicious offers, check them out by visiting www.bbb.org.
Those who prey on the elderly are particularly vile. Older people tend to be more trusting and/or unable to perform common household chores on their own. Many are desperate for help or simply a little companionship. Some may no longer be mentally alert enough to see through the perpetrator's schemes.
People should do what they can for elderly family, friends and neighbors to help them avoid falling victim to such cruel schemes. But in all cases the best defense is a healthy dose of skepticism.