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Scam Alert

7 Common Snowbird Scams

Con artists head south to prey on older seasonal residents

4. The bank examiner scam. Milling around outside banks, con artists pose as bank officials or law enforcement agents who are investigating a corrupt teller. They ask you, as a trusted customer, to go inside, withdraw some money and hand it over. Don't worry, we just need to check serial numbers and mark the banknotes, you're told — we'll redeposit them right away to see if the teller steals any. Of course, they and the cash quickly disappear. Real banking examiners and police don't need your money for their investigations.

5. The lottery winner who can't collect. In a parking lot, someone approaches you claiming to hold a winning lottery ticket. Only problem, the "winner" is in the United States illegally and can't go get the money. Just pay me a portion of the jackpot, you're told, and you can have the ticket. Its number may be "verified" by a passerby — "I saw it announced on TV last night." In reality, this person is an accomplice.

It's one of many so-called pigeon drop scams, in which a stranger offers to share a fortune (found money, an inheritance, etc.) once you make your "good faith" contribution. Forget good faith; use good judgment instead.

6. The condo caper. Unannounced visits by self-described utility workers or contractors should always sound internal alarms of a possible scam. But a request to enter your home can have more credence when the front-door fraudster claims "the condo association sent me."

The crooks often work in pairs and also pose as exterminators. One may "accidentally" spill liquid or even spray pesticide on you and divert your attention by helping with the cleanup while the other stealthily steals valuables.

"If there's one guy, the 'accident' can be to lubricate your hand so he can slip a ring off your finger — or offers to clean it for you," notes Roubicek. "Some then just pocket the jewelry and run off, knowing that many elders are timid and won't stop them."

So unless you initiate contact or the condo association gives prior notice, never let these folks inside your dwelling.

7. Telemarketing cons. Snowbirds can expect an uptick in phony phone calls claiming that they've won a sweepstakes or that a grandchild is in a jam and needs a quick wiring of cash. Why? "The energy of boiler rooms moves to snowbird communities" in the winter, says Roubicek, as scammers buy calling lists of communities that are swelled by thousands of seasonal residents. If you own a condo or second home, it's easy to get personal info such as your name and age, information that's dropped into the come-on to make it seem more legitimate.

Just hang up!

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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Bob Jackson, Texas senior state director, and Gaylene Miller, West Virginia senior state director, discuss taking action to stop scammers.

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