Don’t be scammed: Crooked contractors target trusting seniors

The Bristol Press

July 12, 2014


BRISTOL — A local man arrested this past week on charges he was doing contracting work without a license is well known by police in another way — he’s suspected of scamming the elderly by soliciting them for bogus paving jobs.

Brian Curylo had his home improvement license revoked in March by the state’s Department of Consumer Protection, but that hasn’t stopped him from working on driveways illegally, police said.

Numerous people have reported Curylo taking their money under the New Britain company Hot Top Paving, but never returning to do the work.

That’s one way scammers target the elderly. But sadly, police said, there are many more and local seniors have been frequent targets of the schemes.

One of the most common ways scammers target the elderly, police said, is over the telephone.

“They have a standard routine that they use,” said Bristol police Lt. Donn Watson. “It usually involves some sort of money transfer.” Those preying on vulnerable seniors will often times call and tell them a family member is in need. They’ll usually reference a grandchild, authorities said.

“The basic premise is that a family member is in trouble, and you need to send me money to help them,” Watson said.

The stories can range from someone needing bail money because they’re imprisoned in a foreign country to the caller asking for a ransom claiming they have the a loved one hostage. Sgt. Jeffrey Dobratz, of the Southington Police Department, said sometimes crooks will tell a senior they won the lottery in another country, and that they need to send their bank account information to receive the money.

Watson also said scammers will use the U.S. mail to target elderly victims, either using a lottery routine or offering a phony business investment.

Most crimes committed against seniors, police said, all have one common denominator: they are financially driven. And criminals know the elderly are generally more susceptible to such scams because they are more trusting.

“They come from a generation where there was more trust in people,” Watson said of elder victims. “That trust is what these people are preying on by victimizing them.” He also said police believe the callers, many of whom aren’t even in the country, use websites that give out a homeowner’s phone number and approximate age to make sure the victim is the right age. From there, it’s a matter of calling as many people as possible until someone believes the bogus story they’re told.

“They can be very good at this. Some are very convincing,” Watson said. “They may make 100 phone calls and get two victims, but it’s obviously profitable for them. They continue doing it, which indicates that it works.” “Sometimes they call back a second time and say, ‘the bond has been raised,’ or ‘the ransom is now higher.’ Anytime you give them money, they’ll probably try to get more.” While the amount of money a criminal may ask for can vary dramatically, police said the absolute worst thing to do, aside from wiring money, is talk to them. The more you talk the more information they gather that can be used against you.

The problem is a national one, and perpetrators will target various areas at random, police said.

“It’s not a regular occurrence, but from time-to-time it seems to hit the area,” Dobratz said. “I think most people hang up when they get a call like that, so there may be more cases of it that don’t get reported.” In March, Bristol Police warned residents about a scam in which the caller claimed to be from the Tax Crime Investigation Unit with the Internal Revenue Service. They told intended victims to wire money to cover back taxes that were owed. Then, in May, Bristol Police again warned people about a person calling local residents telling them their relative was being held hostage.

Catching such callers is difficult, they said.

“The way phone numbers are jumbled can make it hard to catch the person doing it,” said Dobratz. “There are different apps on phones that make it appear a phone call is coming from a different location.” Instead, police seek to warn residents about potential scams, through the local media and social media.

To help seniors avoid such scams, the United Way West Central Connecticut TRIAD works with police from Bristol, Plymouth, Plainville and Burlington to alert locals about cons that might be operating in the area. In conjunction, the local Senior Center always posts information about scams.

“There are a lot of predators out there who target the elderly,” said Jason Krueger, assistant director at the Bristol Senior Center. “Throughout the year we do lectures and other things to keep our people aware of what’s going on, and how to avoid becoming a victim.”


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