Niles Police warn of new scam aimed at the elderly
Dedra Thomas of the University of Illinois Extension gives a presentation about identity theft to seniors at The Park at Golf Mill in Niles on Nov. 8. | Contributed photo
Updated: January 28, 2013 1:57AM
NILES — There’s a new financial scam in town and, as is often the case, the elderly have become a primary target.
Niles Police Chief Dean Strzelecki is trying to raise awareness about the latest scam in town called the “Green Dot Scam” which involves pre-loaded debit cards.
In this scam the potential victim is contacted over the phone and falsely informed that they won a prize, like a large amount of cash or a vehicle. The caller then tells the person to go to a local retailer and buy a Green Dot Card and pre-load more than $1,000 on the card. The scam artist then tells the victim to provide the ID number of the card — which allows the offender to withdraw the funds from anywhere.
“I think it’s going to be more prevalent,” Strzelecki said of the debit card scam. So far there have been a few cases reported in Niles.
The police chief said that outside of the scam Green Dot Cards do have merit and are an alternative to credit cards. If stolen, a thief can only withdraw the amount of money that is pre-loaded on the card. With a stolen credit card or ATM card, the amount of the theft can be greater.
Strzelecki said the public is becoming more aware that it is not a good idea to give any of their personal financial information to people on the phone, so criminals are trying this new scam.
Strzelecki talked to the business community about this during the Niles mayoral luncheon a few weeks ago. He said the Police Department also educates the public about scams when a crime prevention booth is set up at various community events.
Strzelecki added that another popular scam is when someone calls a potential victim and tells them that their grandchild has been kidnapped and they need to send bond money.
“It’s something that’s been continuing and is a growing problem,” said Niles Police Sgt. Robert Tornabene about financial fraud. “We are pretty active about getting information out as soon as we can (about) the newest scams that are out there.”
Tornabene added that police are also seeing a lot of ATM fraud and are working closely with the banks and organizations that get hit pretty regularly.
This spring the Police Department will be conducting a senior citizen police academy where financial fraud will be discussed. In addition, other segments of the community are also stepping up to educate and protect local seniors.
Earlier this month the Niles Public Library, as a result of receiving a grant, partnered with The Park at Golf Mill, an assisted living facility, to present a program about preventing identity theft.
Dedra Thomas, from Consumer and Family Economics at the University of Illinois Extension, talked to the seniors about how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft by managing their personal information carefully and wisely.
“We’ve had a few residents that have almost become victims of financial fraud,” said Samantha Stagg, program director at The Park at Golf Mill.
The Niles Police Department also gives talks to seniors at the Niles Senior Center to help make them aware of potential scams and how to avoid them.
Strzelecki said the safest way to protect one’s self is to hang up on any suspicious callers.