Loneliness makes the elderly prime targets for scammers

Scams committed at the expense of the elderly are becoming more widespread as perpetrators utilize increasingly sophisticated computer technology to access personal information. Older people make vulnerable targets for such scams, often because t...

Merchandise ordered with stolen credit card information accumulates in the front porch of the home of an elderly Cloquet man. The man had been conducting an e-mail correspondence with the woman who ordered the goods, who said she was from Nigeria. Cloquet Police photo

Scams committed at the expense of the elderly are becoming more widespread as perpetrators utilize increasingly sophisticated computer technology to access personal information. Older people make vulnerable targets for such scams, often because they are lonely and seeking contact with other individuals.

The Carlton County area has not been immune to such scams and law enforcement agencies attest that such schemes are dramatically on the rise throughout the area.

"We'll see some of them circulating for a while," said Detective Darrin Berg of the Cloquet Police Department, "but as soon as we start catching on to them, others emerge. The times have really changed, and it seems as though more and more people are picking on the elderly."

Most recently, Berg said, an elderly Cloquet man has apparently become the target of scammers who are using him as an unsuspecting "middle man" for an identity theft racket.

According to Berg, a week ago Cloquet Police received notification from the loss prevention manager of an online shopping network stating that the company had shipped some $5,000 worth of merchandise to one address in Cloquet and suspected illegal activity.


Upon further investigation, detectives received information that the homeowner to whom the merchandise was shipped was possibly in possession of a large quantity of items purchased with the use of fraudulent credit cards. A search warrant was executed at the residence, and detectives recovered some $10,000 worth of property that had been purchased with stolen credit cards.

Berg said the 80-year-old homeowner had reportedly established an e-mail relationship with a woman who said she was from Nigeria. After a series of communications and photos were exchanged, the "woman" reportedly agreed to come to the United States and marry the man but first asked him to wire some $4,000 to her via Western Union, which he did. 

The woman then allegedly said she wanted to provide some support to the orphans of her country before leaving. She explained that citizens of Nigeria were not allowed to place online orders for merchandise to be shipped directly to them, so she wanted to have the merchandise shipped instead to the man in Cloquet.

"The idea was that he would then send it on to the address in Nigeria," said Berg. "But the merchandise started to come in so fast that it kind of got away from him, and his whole front porch was filled with boxes and packages."

Berg said an examination of the packages revealed that they were shipped from all over the country, including Ohio, Tennessee, New York and Kansas, and all bore high-end merchandise such as Smart Phones, DVD players, high-tech watches and expensive jewelry and clothing.

Further investigation showed that they had been purchased illegally by using stolen card numbers and security information from at least 12 individuals from around the country. Berg said authorities have thus far uncovered a similar scam operation that took place in the state of Missouri, and he said he suspects it may have cropped up elsewhere as well.

The investigation into the scam and the local man's role continues, and the credit card numbers and computer IP information have been passed on to federal authorities for possible follow up.

In another scam with local ties, loneliness also came into play when a scammer tapped the elderly mother of a Holyoke woman. The woman said after her mother ordered an anti-aging vitamin from a company in Las Vegas, a salesman from the company began calling her up to three to four times a day. 


"My dad died in 2001," related the daughter, "and my mom claimed she was so lonely, even with oodles of people around her and being on the go all the time."

Since the mother was 71 and her caller was 46, the relationship raised a red flag with the woman's daughters and they told her so, but six or seven months later the salesman was still calling their mother several times a day.  

 The mother ended up moving to Las Vegas and moving in with the man, who her family later discovered had a long criminal record, including theft, fraud and murder.

"The murder conviction went back to the late '80s," explained the daughter, "and in 1993 he was sentenced to two life sentences to be served concurrently, with the possibility of parole after 10 years.  He was released and is now on 'life parole' which means he will be monitored until the day he dies."

 Though the woman's family has corresponded with her about their findings, their concerns have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

"She does not respond to either of us," said the daughter. "My sister and I have tried to warn her about this guy and talk her into coming home. The only thing that this guy sees in her is her pocketbook. My grandparents left her a good chunk of change. I don't care about her money.  But I do care that she is safe."

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