When it’s too good to be true

  • Oscar Halpert<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 12:05pm

Anyone can get scammed.

just ask Doug Jackson.

Two years ago, the 83-year-old Edmonds resident retired from his position as a University of Washington geography professor. While at the UW, he founded the Canadian Studies Center, which is part of the Jackson School of International Relations.

All of that education and worldliness, however, didn’t prevent Jackson from getting sucked into a scheme that could have cost him thousands of dollars if he hadn’t become suspicious.

Jackson said he never considered himself the type of person who would fall for a scam. And, he said, he doesn’t gamble.

“I don’t enter local lotteries,” he said.

Over the course of months, Jackson received checks in the mail ranging from $3,000 to $85,000.

“I didn’t know who sent them,” Jackson said. “Quite often, they just came in an envelope.”

According to a police report, the manager of The Bank of Washington, 5901 196th St. SW in Lynnwood, reported fraud April 14, 2006, after his customer, Jackson, tried to deposit “several counterfeit checks” the previous six months.

The bank placed a hold on the money in his bank account until the checks cleared or were shown to be counterfeit.

Many of the checks had the words “The Canadian Lottery” written on them, so bank officials suspected that Jackson might be the victim of fraud.

They were right: Each of the checks was counterfeit. And Jackson was suspicious but thought he’d deposit the checks just to see if he was right, then pay the $25 the bank charged him for each bad check.

Whoever sent the checks directed Jackson to wire a small portion — generally less than $10,000 — of the check’s value to a number the sender provided.

Jackson didn’t take the bait. But he responded via e-mail to the scam perpetrators, notifying them that the checks did not clear.

The bank asked him not to return as a customer.

“I now realize that in addition to accepting the check, I made the second mistake of depositing it,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s experience is not unique.

Every year, thousands of seniors nationally are victimized by a variety of schemes and scams.

The fraud ranges from financial schemes that promise a high return for a small investment, to phony contractors, to various versions of the age-old confidence man scheme known as The Pigeon Drop.

And, though age is no barrier to who gets scammed, the elderly are particularly vulnerable because they often live alone, tend to be more trusting of strangers and may not know a lot about computers, say experts in fraud and aging.

“If we could speak to our elder community all at once, what I would say is ‘how often in your life do you walk up to a card table or slot machine or bank and it just hands you money?’ The reality is, you are just not given money out of the blue for no reason,” said Halley Hupp, an attorney with the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office who specializes in identity theft cases.

Doug Teachworth is the Lynnwood police detective who investigated Jackson’s case.

One of Teachworth’s latest cases involves a World War II veteran in his 90s who lives alone. The man was honored for his service by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It started with a knock on the old veteran’s door.

A man posing as a contractor offered to pressure wash and paint his house, Teachworth said.

The impostor handed the old man a business card with a psalm and cross on it.

“The old guy looked at the card and saw Psalm 29, the (phrase) ‘licensed and bonded’ and thought ‘I guess this is a good, honest guy,’” Teachworth said.

The man, who Teachworth said “has a history of operating without a license,” was anything but honest. He agreed to paint the veteran’s house, then wrapped chicken wire around his chimney and called that a fix.

He wanted nearly $40,000 to fix the old man’s roof.

“Finally, one of the neighbors who looks after this old guy went over there and asked about it,” Teachworth said.

The neighbor confronted the phony contractor, who “ran to the city that day, got his license and used some of the money the victim had put down to be bonded,” Teachworth said.

That contractor asked the veteran to drive him to the bank to pay him with a $35,000 cashier’s check.

The bank manager asked the old man why he needed the $35,000 cashier’s check. “The old man told him ‘I’ve got this nice fellow offering to fix my roof,’” Teachworth said.

Soon, the person overseeing the old man’s legal affairs showed up in time to prevent the thief from taking the old man’s $35,000. But the thief had already conned him out of $15,000, Teachworth said.

And the veteran declined to press charges.

“He was reluctant to prosecute because he still found it hard to believe,” Teachworth said. “He kind of felt like it was his fault.”

Self-blame, shame, guilt; seniors victimized by fraud deal with all three.

“It’s very shameful to admit that this has happened,” said Amy Benson, quality assurance coordinator for the Lynnwood branch of Home Instead Senior Care, an international franchise that provides non-medical home care for seniors. “And you’re putting yourself out there to (admit) you can’t stay at home anymore.”

Many seniors will just “suck it up,” she said, “because you don’t want your family thinking ‘oh, you need a nursing home.’”

Jackson, who volunteers with the Lynnwood Police department, said he’s much more cautious these days when he’s approached by strangers.

It was just naive stupidity. I guess,” he said. “You can laugh at yourself, but the temptation is always there.”

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