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Published August 03. 2012 05:01PM

Senior citizens need to be aware that there are ripoff artists, often posing as workers offering home repairs, operating in the area.

Two elderly residents in the Lehighton area have been recent targets. The latest occurred on Wednesday when a 91-year-old woman in town was duped by a person posing as a worker for a local plumbing and heating business. After tricking his way inside the home, he stole more than $70,000.

This came less than two weeks after an 89-year-old Mahoning Township woman became the victim of another home repair scam. In that case, a man and woman seal coated half her driveway and said they would finish the job after being paid. The pair got inside the home, distracted the woman, and stole $90,000 from a safe that was left open.

Crooks are also operating by mail or telephone. In Wilkes-Barre, a man received a letter from "The National Lottery" announcing he was one of the lucky winners chosen in North America and the UK for shopping at one or more major known retailers. It included a check for $3,920 made out in his name.

The letter stated he'd receive another check for more than $81,000 but it required him to wire $2,900 to cover taxes and processing fees. The fact that the contact number listed on the letter pointed to an overseas number aroused his suspicion.

He also noted that the letterhead included the name of a pipe fitting company in Mobile, Ala. but the letter was mailed from Canada. He found the company, Four Industrial Supply Inc., was legitimate in Alabama but its name is being illegally used after company checks were stolen in Canada. The FBI is investigating.

Scam artists are quick to prey on the emotions of the elderly. A prime time for home repair fraud is after a severe storm. One should never agree to on-the-spot "repairs" from someone you don't know. "Contractors" who appear at your door claiming that you need major structural repairs (often a roof) need to be thoroughly checked and should have the recommendation of a close friend or relative.

Another ploy by scammers is to pose as utility workers, saying they need to check the phone line or water pressure inside the house. Once inside, one thief distracts the homeowner while an accomplice may ask to use the bathroom or to check the faucets. Once out of sight, he can roam free and quickly loot the home.

Human emotions can play a big part in elderly scams. Whether it's a telephone scam or a phony door-to-door solicitation, seniors need to be alert to the various schemes. It's estimated that fraud for all age groups is underreported, partly because the victim is embarrassed. Many seniors are afraid of losing their independence, so they won't tell their loved ones if they were cheated or stolen from because they don't want to lose their financial independence, such as writing checks.

One expert explains that another basic human emotion loneliness can also play a part in fraud cases. He says that when an elderly partner, who has been used to seeing somebody sitting across the table, suddenly loses that person, there is an obvious void for the survivor.

Unfortunately, when a survivor is most vulnerable, the one who fills the void can sometimes be a smooth-talking scam artist.

By Jim Zbick

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