"Absolutely, during snowbird season there's an increase in scams — and many are done by organized outfits ... who specifically target older seasonal residents," says Joe Roubicek, who spent 20 years investigating scams as a Fort Lauderdale police detective before writing Financial Abuse of the Elderly: A Detective's Case Files of Exploitation Crimes.
If you're among the thousands about to migrate to a warmer climate, beware of these common snowbird scams:
1. The malevolent mechanic. They wait outside shopping malls or supermarkets, watching for snowbirds (often recognized by out-of-state license plates) to park and go inside. If the car's older or left unlocked, they can pop the hood and disable the vehicle by pulling wires. "When the elder returns, they offer help getting their car started — after driving them to the bank for money to pay for the repair," says Roubicek. "Their main target: women in their 70s or 80s."
Your best option, if you're not a AAA member, is to call a friend or police to give you a hand.
2. Pickpockets. Organized gangs work flea markets and the aisles of stores near retirement communities for a week or so, then move to the next community, says Bob Arno, a former pickpocket-turned-comedic counselor on street crimes. Snowbirds are especially targeted because they tend to carry cash, wear looser-fitting clothing and may have slower reactions.
If you're in a crowd or you see strangers ahead, keep your hand on your wallet or tightly clutch your handbag. Be especially careful when approached by "lost" duos in need of directions. (One distracts you — sometimes with map in hand — while the other dips into your bag.) If possible, keep wallets in a buttoned pocket or in a safety pouch worn beneath clothing.
3. ID theft. Roubicek warns of store clerks who capture credit card numbers with cellphone cameras or pen and paper and then make fraudulent purchases. It's a good idea to use only one card — with the lowest credit limit — for snowbird season purchases and go online regularly to keep close tabs on its activity.