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AARP Bulletin

Busted: Con Artists Exposed

An inside look at the worst frauds and how scammers target their victims

Scam Artist Mugshots Enhanced Gluffrida (Illustration: Sean McCabe, Courtesy The Bangor Daily News)

Michael Angelo Giuffrida of Canada received a two-year sentence for his role as a "runner" in a grandparents scam after U.S. Border Patrol officers searching his car found seven cellphones and some $100,000 from recently redeemed wire transfers sent by American grandparents to his co-conspirators. — Sean McCabe, Courtesy The Bangor Daily News


After gathering names and other details about family members from obituaries, social media and ancestry websites, scammers call, often in the wee hours.

See also: Swear off scammers

They claim to be beloved grandchildren who've been arrested or hospitalized — often while traveling — and need immediate money.

Don't believe it.

Or, at least call the grandchild or parents before heading to Western Union.

Grandparents of college-aged young people are the most frequent targets, reporting losses exceeding $110 million a year.

Scam Artist Mugshots Enhanced, Joyner (Illustration: Sean McCabe, Wake County Sheriff’s Office)

Randall Lee Joyner is part of a ring of 10 unlicensed contractors awaiting trial for allegedly scamming older homeowners out of some $300,000 in repeated bogus home repairs. He was arrested at a home where law enforcement says he was going to make an 11th fraudulent fix. — Sean McCabe, Courtesy Texas State Securities Board

Home Repair

Unscrupulous contractors arrive unexpected at your front door, claiming to have noticed necessary repairs while driving by.

See also: Avoiding door-to-door sales scams

Some demand upfront payment for materials and then run off with the money. Others do shoddy work like applying used motor oil to recoat driveways.

Some make legitimate repairs for outrageous prices.

Perhaps the worst are "woodchucks." They might initially trim trees or clean gutters, but they continue to recommend more repairs until you're bled dry by them or their "specialist" buddies.

Scam Artist Mugshots Enhanced (Illustration: Sean McCabe, Courtesy PA-OAG)

Bruce H. Cherry of Philadelphia pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and theft stemming from his role in a ring that scammed $700,000 from at least 218 Pennsylvanians who were sold bogus contracts for non-medical home care as a substitute for long-term health care insurance, prosecutors said. — Sean McCabe, Courtesy PA-OAG

Health Care

The come-on may be an offer of free medical supplies, a threat of losing Medicare coverage or a promise of better sex with low-cost Viagra.

See also: Help fight health care fraud

The result can be old-fashioned financial fraud or a specialized variant, medical identity theft, in which impostors get health care services under your name, leaving you with the tab.

People 65 and older are prized targets because of Medicare benefits.

In view of continuing public misconceptions about how the Affordable Care Act works, experts predict health care scams will become an epidemic in 2014.

Scam Artist Mugshots Enhanced, Mangiafico Jr (Illustration, Sean McCabe, Courtesy Texas State Securities Board)

Robert Joseph Mangiafico Jr. stole $655,000 from nine older women, persuading them to liquidate assets and make investments through him. He was sentenced to 40 years in Texas state prison for theft and money laundering. — Sean McCabe, Courtesy Texas State Securities Board


These come in many forms: Some are free-lunch seminars hawking questionable financial products or legitimate ones with long "hold" periods that are unsuitable for older investors.

Others are pitches from cold-calling telemarketers for "no risk" investments in precious metals or penny stocks.

See also: Can you spot investment fraud?

Losses can be particularly high: Older investors who fell for the bait were out an average of $140,500 each, a study found.

Next page: Inside the mind of a scammer. »

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