The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
I am writing this letter to the editor as a public service to all of your readers, but especially to the elder residents. As you are likely aware, I have taken over Richard Rasmussen's law practice in La Harpe. I have noticed in the past year or so that there seems to have been an increase in the number of elderly people being taken advantage of by scam artists and other unscrupulous people. My office has received numerous calls from elderly residents being tricked out of hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, most of the time there is nothing that can be done to get their money back-it has vanished. The devastation that this causes to somebody on a limited fixed income is indescribable. I have seen this first hand, and I would like to present in this letter a few of the more common frauds for your readers to be aware of:
1) Sweepstakes winners: You get a call or letter saying you have just won a big prize, but must first send money for "taxes" or fees before getting your prize. People have claimed to be from Publisher's Clearinghouse and other seemingly reputable entities, and these scammers are very convincing. Once you send a little money for the "taxes" or other "fees", there is a request for more money, and then more money. The scammers will also typically ask you to wire the funds in some way or another. Please understand: these people are professionals and are very convincing. It does not take long before you have sent them hundreds, if not thousands of dollars without even realizing there is a problem.
2) Overpayment: Another version of the sweepstakes winner is the overpayment scam. You get a call or letter stating you have just won a big prize or are getting an unexpected refund from somebody or something. The scammer sends you a check and tells you to go ahead and deposit the check-oh, but wait, the scammer says, we made a mistake and gave you too much, could you please just wire back to us, half of what we sent you? This is the hook. You then gladly refund a portion of the money you have received. Oops, they say, we need a little more back, and you gladly send a little more. A few days later, the bank calls and informs you that the check was a fake and now you have to pay the bank all the money back!
3) Home repair: Be very leery of bogus contractors who claim you need major structural repairs on your home, and especially leery of contractors who need a large initial payment prior to beginning any work. Never agree to on-the-spot "repairs" from someone you do not know-get a second opinion! Never ever give a contractor a large sum of money "down payment" prior to beginning any work. If a contractor needs the money for materials, you can pay a portion of the payment upon delivery of the materials, but no sooner. At the very minimum, structure the payments so that you only pay 1/3 of the money upon delivery of materials, 1/3 upon half completion of the job, and 1/3 upon final completion, but ONLY after final approval of the job.
These are just a few of the scams that have been used on people. I have received calls from both friends and clients, unfortunately it is usually after the damage has occurred. By this time, it is almost always too late to get their money back. Hancock County State's Attorney, Jim Drozdz, is aware of the problem also, but it is difficult to prosecute many of these scammers because by the time it is reported to him, the scammers suddenly drop out of sight.
I have spoken with Hancock County Sheriff, Scott Bentzinger about this issue, and he has stated that his office will gladly assist anybody who feels they may be being taken advantage of-the key is, to ask before you become a victim. Remember, it never hurts to ask for a second opinion.
The best defense is prevention. Please, please, please, if you are in doubt, call the Hancock County Sheriff's Office at (217) 357-2125, or my office at (217) 659-3312- it usually only takes a few minutes to determine if there is a scam or not, and we are happy to help.
Kurt R. Dittmer
Rasmussen and Dittmer Law Office
La Harpe, IL