JOHNSBURG – Crystal Lake accountant Ken Martin has seen his fair share of clients fall victim to scams and identify theft, but nothing compared to his McHenry client who lost more than $130,000 to a scam artist in Costa Rica.
The elderly McHenry resident was promised millions, and all he had to do was send money orders of $2,000 to collect his winnings. For three months the man sent money order after money order until he completely cleaned out his IRA. His family pleaded for him to stop. He would slam the door when police would come to his home. Eventually, he went completely broke.
“He wouldn’t even talk to his family members because he believed that he had finally hit it big,” Martin said.
Whether it’s over the phone, through the mail or sent to an email inbox, scams present a serious threat – particularly to senior citizens – and the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office presented a seminar to residents Friday about how to protect themselves from identify theft and other scams.
The holidays are a particularly dangerous time of the year for scams as identity thieves prey on older residents who are in the spirit of giving, according to McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke.
“If somebody’s calling you over the phone, and you don’t know them from Adam, and they want you to send them money, don’t do it,” Zinke told the group of more than two dozen residents Friday in the senior services room at the McHenry Township Building.
Some of the more common scams happening in McHenry County currently involve calls from people claiming to be from the IRS who demand that you owe money, Zinke said. A recent case involved a Crystal Lake man who was told he had warrants for tax violations. He sent $12,000 before he realized it was a scam.
The IRS recommends that if you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, hang up and call the main number at 800-829-1040. An IRS worker can assist you to determine whether you owe any taxes.
Zinke also said it’s important to be on the lookout for lottery winnings that appear too good to be true. In August, a Crystal Lake man received a phone call that told him he had won $1 million, and all he had to do was go to Western Union and send a money order of $800. Another case involved a man who received a letter in the mail from a “Financial Services” company informing him that he won $50,000. To collect, the man needed to first pay $2,550 for the taxes on the winnings.
“I can’t tell you how many people do this,” Zinke said. “Either they believe the messages they are receiving or they just want to believe so bad and they are going to do this. You need to really think about this stuff.”
The Better Business Bureau of Chicago also cautioned against holiday scams. The BBB urged people to be on the lookout for bogus charities, fake gift cards from online third parties and Dear Santa websites that lure children into too much personal information.
“Vigilance is the word,” BBB CEO Steve Bernas said in a press release. “Whether you’re making a donation, shopping online or in stores, scammers are on the lookout for you and you should do the same for them. Keep your eyes and ears open.”