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Games People Play: Protect Yourself

Let's make a deal.

Have you ever been the victim of a crime? Has your house been robbed? Your car broken into? Your purse snatched on a crowded subway train? If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you stand a good chance of falling prey to petty crimes such as theft or vandalism.

As we age, our chance of becoming a crime victim decreases greatly. However, our fear of being victimized tends to increase, feeding off a lifetime of experience as well as physical problems that may leave us less able to defend ourselves. While seniors have become more vigilant in protecting themselves against physical crimes, they still overlook the greatest criminal activity threatening them—con games and fraud.

“What is a scam? It’s somebody trying to get your money or something valuable from you,” says Chicago Police Officer Ron Rufo, Ph.D. “Greed enters into a lot of scams, when people are out to defraud you or mislead you by their actions and words.”

A 17-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, Officer Rufo has seen thousands of criminals and their victims. He tours the city as a crime prevention speaker through the CPD’s Preventative Programs section. In May, he brought his years of experience and expertise to Weiss, educating the dozen community members present during a lecture on con games and what to watch out for.

Officer Rufo talked about a few common cons, including home repair fraud, telemarketing hoaxes and bank examiner scams. He listed a few tip-offs to watch out for:

  • Dealings in cash only—this allows the person proposing the plan or investment opportunity to get away with your money quickly, easily and without a trace.
  • A “secret” plan—the person says they can’t divulge details, leaving you in the dark. Of course, there are no details because there is no plan.
  • Get rich quick—the opportunity enables you to get something for nothing. Nothing is exactly what you’ll get.
  • Act immediately—this requirement does not give you adequate time to consider and research the proposal. “If it’s a good deal today, it will be a good deal tomorrow,” Officer Rufo says.
  • Fear tactics—be wary if the person threatens your safety or well-being in any way. He may not harm you, but he will rip you off.
  • Leftover materials—the person may offer you a great deal on goods or services they have in excess. What he isn’t telling you: If the materials exist at all, they were either stolen or defective.

Officer Rufo ended his presentation with some practical advice pertinent to people of any age:

“Watch out for the nice guy because he’s going to act like a friend of yours,” says Officer Rufo. “Whatever you like to do, he’s going to be the best at it. He’s going to start mirroring you to befriend you.  And remember—if the plan appears too good to be true, it probably is.”

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