Police target senior scams in Warren, neighboring cities

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published May 25, 2016


WARREN — Roaming bands of “professional actors” bent on bilking seniors out of their nest eggs are the subject of a new law enforcement crackdown in Warren and neighboring communities.

Mayor Jim Fouts said earlier this month that he had directed the Police Department to spearhead a new task force dedicated to thwarting senior scams and the traveling bands of thieves known to prey on the elderly.

“Task forces are great. They can solve crimes faster than anything else,” Fouts said. “We’ll get five or six police departments. We’re going to contact cities. We have an expert on senior crimes. We’re going to get together these expert police officers who know how to handle senior crimes. We’ve got too many (senior crimes) occurring, not just in Warren, but in other areas.”

Sgt. Matt Nichols, of the Warren Police Department, has spent years investigating scams and fraud of various types targeting seniors and the elderly.

He said an average case of this type nets about $32,000 for the thief or thieves. They often work together in small groups. Many are transient and use multiple aliases, making them difficult to track.

Because they deal in cash, they’re often quick to post bail even if they’re arrested.

And after they do, they usually disappear for a while.

“The people that are known to commit these crimes and specifically target the elderly and senior citizens in our community, they exploit our jurisdictional boundaries,” Nichols said. “It’s really imperative that we coordinate resources and attack it from a multidirectional front.”

Warren officers assigned to work on senior crimes will meet twice weekly with their counterparts from Sterling Heights, Center Line, Roseville and the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office.

Nichols said officers on the task force will pull reports, examine evidence and work to turn actionable intelligence into arrests through surveillance.

Success depends, at least in part, on crimes being reported and the extent of information provided by actual or would-be victims.

Seniors are often targeted for their diminished hearing, eyesight or memory; because they tend to be trusting; or because there is a perception that they can become easily flustered, scared or confused.

When crimes do occur, Nichols said many go unreported for reasons ranging from simple embarrassment to a fear of losing independence.

The scams can be something as simple as an unsolicited knock on the door offering landscaping or home repair services, and visits from fake utility company representatives.

One weapon in the fight against such scams is neighbors who look out for other neighbors.   

Nichols said the most important thing for anyone who encounters suspicious activity to do is to call 911 and let the police check it out.

“The biggest thing is don’t be afraid to call the police. It’s not a bother. If anyone shows up at your door unannounced and wants to inspect your home, always be suspect,” Nichols said. “No one is going to appear at your home and be concerned about a crack on your porch.

“With these folks, that’s why they victimize this particular age group and generation. Sometimes residents feel compelled to engage folks that show up on their doorstep in a conversation. It’s not worth it. Don’t even try. They’re professional actors and they’re very skilled in their trade,” Nichols said. “They have no ties to the community. They have no ties to a home or a school. The people that do this kind of thing make their living and amass their wealth on stealing.”