Con artists have swindled thousands of dollars from a Virginia woman over the past couple of years, according to the daughter of the victim, who wishes to remain anonymous.
“We were first tipped off when she tried to mail some thousands of dollars to Costa Rica,” said the victim’s daughter. “My stepfather intercepted that mailing and that’s when we realized something really serious was going on.”
The family only found out this past month after checking bank statements and discovered the 65-year-old, whom police call Elizabeth, was out $50,000.
"She had just stopped working and was in the house by herself for long periods during the day," the daughter said. "I think that’s when a lot of the calls started to come in."
At one point, Elizabeth, who suffers from the early stages of dementia, received various soliciting mail, and would answer as many as 18 calls per day, her daughter said. On the other end of the line, scammers were telling her she had just won the lottery and they needed a down payment to secure her winnings.
The Fairfax County Police Department has a dedicated unit for these financial crimes, and since the beginning of the year, they’ve discovered about 60 people who collectively have lost more than $200,000.
Detective Tom Polhemus said these overseas scammers typically target senior citizens people and prey on their emotions.
“"Ms. So-and-so, this is your favorite grandson',"” Polhemus said. "'Oh yeah, Bobby, it’s you.' 'I’m stuck in Canada. I was in a car wreck and I need you to wire me a fairly small amount of money -- $1,200.' And once they do that first wire transfer, it just goes up from there."
While it's difficult to stop the calls, the first thing you can do to protect your loved ones is to have their mail forwarded to your house so they never read those scams, Polhemus said. "It’s also important to check their bank accounts to notice any unusual transactions." Also, check credit reports and put a temporary freeze on their credit if necessary.
“We’re sort of in damage control at this point, trying to get the money [losses] stopped," the victim’s daughter said. "So I don’t know what happens next."
Unfortunately, once someone's wired money overseas, there's no way to get it back, police said.