Police urge caution after resident hit by scam

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 9, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS — If someone shows up unexpectedly at your home and insists they need to work on your house, don’t trust them — it could be a setup for a scam.

A 95-year-old Madison Heights woman fell victim to one April 20, when a man showed up at her home in the 27000 block of Delton Street. He presented himself as an employee for a power company and even looked the part, wearing a yellow worker’s vest and blue jeans. He said that he needed to enter her home, shut off her electricity and work on her wires.

The woman suggested that the man return the next day, when her son would be over to help, but he insisted the work needed to be done right away. The man is described as white and in his 50s, with a slim build and brown hair. He had arrived in a black car.

Upon entering the home, the man reportedly went room to room, looking around and flipping light switches on and off. It was only after he left that the victim went into her bedroom and realized that the drawers were open and the jewelry she had kept there was gone, including a half-dozen or more rings, among them some sentimental items from her late husband. There were bracelets and chains allegedly worth more than $50,000. The man also appears to have stolen $500 in cash and the woman’s checkbook as well.

“Unfortunately, incidents like these happen all too often,” Madison Heights Police Lt. Michael Siladke said in an email. “There are many variations of this type of distraction or utility company imposter scam, but they all seek to take advantage of an unwitting victim.

“A resident should always confirm the identity of anyone seeking access to their home,” he said. “If someone is there for legitimate reasons, they will have identification and will not have a problem with anyone calling to verify the reason that they are there. An argumentative individual showing up at your home or one who creates a sense of urgency to promote confusion should be scrutinized.”

He said that some of the most common scams include online dating scams, imposter scams, fake check scams, and family emergency scams or “grandparent scams” where the con artist poses as a distant relative in distress.

Dating scams were an especially big problem last year, with scammers creating fake profiles on dating websites and striking up relationships to build trust, but never meeting the intended victim, instead stringing them along with cover stories while requesting money for plane tickets, medical expenses and gift cards.

Social Security scams were another trend last year, with the Social Security Administration, or SSA, receiving more than 718,000 reports in 2020. Here, imposters posing as officials with the SSA call the victim and claim their Social Security number is linked to a crime. They then demand sensitive information and threaten to arrest the victim if they don’t comply. The real SSA would never call over the phone requesting your number.

Yet another trend relates to the pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission reported in March that Americans have lost more than $382 million to scams related to COVID-19. The con artist persuades victims with fake treatments, fake charities, ads for fake test kits and emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are also scams related to stimulus checks where the imposter claims to be from the IRS and demands bank account or other financial information, which the actual IRS would never request over the phone.

Suspected scams can be reported at the Federal Trade Commission’s website: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov. This will alert law enforcement and provide an action plan on what to do next.

“In Madison Heights, a variety of scams have been reported in recent years. Of them all, an increase in online frauds and scams have been noted,” Siladke said. “Just like verifying the reason someone is at your home, any online correspondence should be verified as legitimate, and any unknown or suspicious emails, texts, or phone numbers should go unanswered. If something seems out of the ordinary, always verify the information, especially if someone is asking for money, including checks, money orders or gift cards.”

If you think you were the target of a scam, call the Madison Heights police at (248) 585-2100.