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Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves: How to protect yourself from in-person scammers

After what seemed like an endless winter in Pittsburgh, spring has finally arrived. With the warmer weather, leaves fill branches, flowers blossom, yellow dandelions dot the landscape, and scammers start targeting their next victims. Called "gypsies" by some, these people scout out vulnerable seniors, often widows, and by the time they're done, they've made off with cash and valuables. How does this happen?



You are outside getting the mail when a truck pulls up. Two kind looking men get out and start a friendly conversation.


"Wow," one says. "I love how you've landscaped your yard."


Blushing, you say, "Oh, it's nothing. Just some perennials my late husband planted before he died."


"Oh, I'm so sorry. How long has he been gone?"


"Only two years, but it feels like much longer. We would have celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in July."


"I bet there's a lot of work you need done around here without him."


"Oh, yes," you admit. "I have hedges in the back badly in need of a trim."


"Well, you're in luck. We specialize in doing just that. Do you mind showing me what you need and I can give you a price?"


Without thinking about how the front door is hanging open, you walk around the house to the backyard with one of the men. He checks out the hedges, carries on a longer conversation about your late husband, and finally quotes you a fair price for doing the necessary work. You agree to it and he says he'll return tomorrow.


Meanwhile, his partner has entered your house in search of case and valuables, which he helps himself to before returning to the truck. When you return to the front yard, the two men smile, thank you, and drive off.


You've been scammed. And it's just one of many ways these "gypsies" get you before moving on to another neighborhood, town, or city.


Whenever someone stops by to solicit their services, you can protect yourself in several ways:


  • Do not open the door to strangers.

  • If you are outside when they stop by, do not go anywhere else on the property with them.

  • Do not divulge information to them that indicates you are alone.

  • Tell them you have to go inside and get your husband/son/brother to come out and talk to them.

  • Never pay them upfront for work they plan to do.

  • Always ask for a card and references and tell them you'll get back to them.

  • Do not fall for the "this offer is only good today." They will often tell you that someone just canceled or they're in the neighborhood already and the price is low for that reason, but won't be that low tomorrow.

  • Do not give them your credit card... for any reason.

  • Do call the police if you suspect anything strange about them. Make sure you get their license number.

  • If someone says they're there from a utility company to check something, ask for their ID and tell them to wait. Lock the door and call the company to see if the visit is legit.


These are just some of the tips to help save you from being robbed or scammed in other ways in person. The AARP has a Fraud Watch Network which features a map showing where seniors were targeted in your area. Click here to access the map and here to learn more about current and ongoing scams.


Let's all be diligent and proactive in protecting ourselves and our property.




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