FROM: Karyn Sinunu, Chief Assistant District Attorney

Cindy Hendrickson, Deputy District Attorney
Elder Fraud Unit
(408) 792-2551

For release on July 29, 2005


It is that time of year (May through September) when many professional itinerant crime groups travel to the Bay Area targeting seniors. In Santa Clara County the scam seen most often this year is one where a crook (male or female), often accompanied by young children, follows an intended victim home from a store parking lot. The scam artist honks and motions the victim to pull over; insists that there is something wrong with the victim's car; follows the victim home and aggressively works into the victim's home under the guise of trying to help fix the car or negotiate or collect payment. The goal is to get access to the victim's residence to steal the victim's jewelry or other valuables.

There are variations to this scam. The crook may approach a senior in a parking lot, offer to fix a dent in the car and then follow the victim home to collect payment. Children are used to disarm and distract victims.

The safest thing to do in such a situation is to drive to the nearest police station. (It is also a good idea to have a cell phone in the car for emergencies.) These scam artists are easily scared off by the threat of police involvement. One hardened professional itinerant criminal interviewed by the San Francisco Police Department not too long ago allowed that the phrase "I'm going to call the police" was the most effective weapon any victim could use against him.

It is extremely important that citizens report all instances of actual or suspected elder abuse, even if the crime was not completed and even if the reporter is unable to say for sure whether a crime has occurred. These cases can be like complex puzzles with each report providing a necessary piece. Sometimes it is the intended victim of an unsuccessful attempt who is able to identify the perpetrator while an actual victim was not. Sometimes it is a concerned neighbor who must speak up for the elderly victim who cannot. The number to call in Santa Clara County is 1-800-414-2002.

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