Fairfield police to be featured on NBC Dateline episode about scams
While the nation's war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan regularly draw the attention of the public, there's another "war" here at home that all too often flies under the radar -- scams sent to unsuspecting victims via e-mail.
An episode of NBC Dateline scheduled to air at 7 p.m. Sunday hopes to change that. Featuring Fairfield Deputy Chief of Police Gary MacNamara and Public Information Officer Sgt. James Perez, the TV news magazine will tell the story of how law-enforcement agencies and Dateline joined forces to bring to justice a Nigerian scam artist who allegedly pocketed more than $200,000 from an elderly Stratford woman.
The woman came to Fairfield police after watching "Just the Facts," a series of broadcasts put together by MacNamara and Perez to educate the public on safety issues, including one on Internet scams. The shows have since ceased production, but are still available for viewing online at www.soundviewtv.org.
Perez said the woman received an e-mail claiming that she was the next of kin in line to receive a substantial sum of money. The sender reportedly informed the woman that she would have to pay money for taxes and other related costs. The unsuspecting woman obliged, and eventually took a trip to London to meet the Nigerian scammer and his friends, Perez said.
After meeting with the woman, Perez spoke with NBC Dateline correspondent Chris Hansen about the events and the television newsmagazine decided to pursue the story.
According to Perez, Dateline spent more than a year posing as the woman in an attempt to lure the Nigerian scammer to the United States. After failed attempts to get the scammer to meet in Fairfield and New York City, he finally agreed to meet in South Carolina. That is where the man was busted.
Perez said, however, the elderly woman has still not recouped her money.
"It happens more than you think," he said. "Most victims, they're so embarrassed, they don't want to tell anyone."
The children of the woman who will be anonymously featured on Dateline still don't know she was the victim of a scam, Perez said.
The targets are typically senior citizens, and there's no shortage of them in sight.
Right now, Perez said, there are approximately 33.6 million seniors living in the U.S. -- a half million of them in Connecticut and 13,500 in Fairfield. These numbers will only increase in coming years as the baby boomer generation -- 75.4 million babies were born between 1946 and 1964 -- grows older.
Perez said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has identified three reasons why seniors frequently are targeted by scams. No. 1: They have a nest egg and the scammers know this -- the average net worth of a senior is $108,000; No. 2: The seniors born in the 1930s, '40s and '50s were taught to be polite and not to question authority; and No. 3: The scammers know that seniors are afraid to tell their children that they have been had, because they're concerned their children will think they no longer have the mental capacity to live on their own.
While seniors are the main target, Perez said, "Make no mistake about it, anyone can become a victim."
Scammers "have launched grenades and rockets, so to speak, in to all of our living rooms," he said. "Some of them detonate and some don't."
"We want people to understand that this is a very real scam," he added. "That is why this is such an important show."