Season Of Con Artists Begins

Elderly Are Most Vulnerable To Spring Migration Of Swindlers

March 26, 1992|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff writer

Mary Kelly thought the two men at her door were nice enough.

Theyidentified themselves as county utilities workers, there to check the water pressure. They had already talked to Kelly's husband about the problem, they said.

Although Kelly's husband was not home, she agreed to let them check the pipes and led one of the men to the basement of her Linthicum home.

"I knew better, but they talked to me friendly," Kelly, 84, said. "The first man was keeping my attention, while the other was ransacking my drawers."

The pair got away with $200 in cash and other property.

According to police, Mary Kelly was the first this spring to fall prey to traveling con artists who are after money and property. They usually target elderly people they believe to be easy marks.

County police Intelligence Detective Wayne Marshall said about50 to 100 residents are swindled during the spring and early summer by con artists who travel through the county on their way north.

"As the weather starts heating up, the incidents dwindle down," he said. "Then they pick up again in the fall as they travel back down south from Canada."

The sales ploys range from home improvement to carrepairs.

"They drive around neighborhoods first to look for an easy target," Marshall said.

They make their living conning people out of money or property.

A popular ploy involves offering to pave driveways with watered-down tar that washes off in the rain or cracksin the hot sun, he said.

"They will tell you a price, and then when the job is down, they will say they had to use more materials thanthey thought and up the price," Marshall said. "They will get pushy about getting the money."

Some might turn up at your front door with a piece of termite-infested wood that they claim came from your home. They will offer to correct the problem for a price.

"Nine out of 10 people don't need it," Marshall said.

In yet another scam, one partner orchestrates a disruption in a store while the other robs the till.

"One I've heard of had a woman lifting up her skirt in the store. Of course, she had nothing under it," Marshall said. "All heads turned, and while that was happening, they cleaned out the the register."

Marshall recommended that residents always ask for proper identification and check with the Better Business Bureau, the attorney general's Consumer Protection Office or county police.

"If it's seems too good to be true, it probably is," he said.

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