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More than $70,000 stolen

Published August 03. 2012 05:01PM

Between $70,000 and $80,000 was stolen from a 92-year-old Lehighton woman by a flimflam artist.

Lehighton Police said the incident happened Wednesday afternoon when a male, posing as a repair man, entered the woman's home, said he would be doing needed repairs in the basement, then stole her savings.

According to police, he also stole $107 from her purse.

An investigation is continuing into whether anything else was taken from the home.

The incident has some similarity to a July 17 incident in Mahoning Township in which an 89-year-old woman had $90,000 stolen by a couple who pretended to be doing uninvited driveway repairs at her residence.

No arrest has been made in that incident.

Mahoning Township Officer-in-Charge Audie Mertz opined that from the information he obtained, the same individuals weren't involved in pulling-off the two scams.

However, he cautioned that they could be members of "a band of gypsies operating in the area" and preying on the elderly.

He strongly urged that if someone comes to your home who you didn't call, "don't let them in." He added, "Call the company (that they claim to represent), tell them to get lost, and call the police."

In the Lehighton incident, police said the perpetrator portrayed a repair man, arriving in a white box truck. The con artist said he was dispatched to the home by a local firm.

He was let into the home, then told the woman he had to do some plumbing work in the basement.

According to police, he was in the basement for some time, then said he had to go to his truck for something. He left and never returned. The victim then discovered that the thefts occurred.

The investigation is continuing into whether there was an accomplice with the male.

Police are also trying to determine how much intrusion the thief or thieves made into the rest of the residence.

The incident happened in the center of the community.

In the July 17 incident in Mahoning, which happened at a home in the western part of the township in the vicinity of Route 443, a white, newer model GMC work van pulled up to the woman's house.

Mertz said a man and a woman, both believed to be in their 40s, began doing unsolicited work on the driveway.

He said they "pretended" to seal coat the driveway, getting halfway done. This was done without the woman's permission, he said.

They then asked her if she wanted the rest of the driveway completed. Because half of it was done, she consented, then went into her house where she unlocked her safe to get funds to pay for the work.

Mertz said the thieves told her she didn't have to pay them immediately. The female then distracted the elderly woman while the male went into the home and searched for valuables.

According to Mertz, gypsies sometimes work a specific region in groups of people with an hierarchy. Of the Lehighton incident, "They might be related, but they're not the same people."

He said often these gypsies drive around and scope areas, looking to spot homes where elderly residents reside.

The FBI says that there are numerous reasons the elderly are often targeted to be scam victims. Among them:

• People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say "no" or just hang up the telephone.

• Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don't know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don't know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.

• When elderly victims report a crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims' realization that they have been swindled may take weeksor more likely, monthsafter contact with the fraudster.

This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.

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