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Smooth-talking phone scammers target senior citizens

Tuesday - 1/24/2012, 5:15am  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

FAIRFAX, Va. - The phone rings. It's a call from your grandchild saying he is in South America and needs money. If this sounds suspicious, that's because it's an old scam that keeps resurfacing.

In Fairfax County, three senior citizens lost more than $22,000 to these types of scams in the last few weeks.

Police are now warning seniors and their children to learn more about how the cons work and how to avoid them.

"These people are tricky. They know what they are doing," said Fairfax County police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell.

The scammers approached the three victims in similar ways.

An 80-year-old woman wired $4,800 to Bolivia after she was convinced her granddaughter had been seriously injured in an accident while attending a wedding. She later sent $5,000 more for medical expenses.

A 91-year-old man in the Fair Oaks area received a similar call from someone who convinced him he was his grandson who had been arrested in Peru. He sent $13,000 in an attempt to help.

A variation of another old scam also cheated a Springfield woman. She was asked to wire money in order to collect her winnings in a lottery.

Caldwell says these are just three of hundreds of crimes the Fairfax County Financial Crimes Unit sees each year. The money is rarely recovered.

"We want to educate not only the older folks in the community, but other people who may have older relatives," she said.

Church groups, assisted living facilities and people with older parents can call Fairfax police to set up a presentation on fraud.

If you want to set up a presentation, you can call the Fairfax County police at 703-246-3271.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)