Police combat resurgence of scam artists targeting organizations, elderly citizens

Marty McAndrews

UT Police Department and the Austin Police Department are on alert concerning scam artists that have been targeting individuals and businesses in Austin.

Con artists are perpetrating the “phoner toner” scam and the “pigeon drop” scam throughout Austin, taking advantage of University and state employees and the elderly.

UTPD Officer Darrell Halstead said the phoner toner scam is especially relevant to UT because this type of scam has been in existence since copier machines have been in use at UT.

Individuals contact UT employees and present themselves as salesmen. They then record information about the type of copier the victims use and send an unsolicited order of toner and an invoice, Halstead said.

Halstead said some victims don’t scrutinize the invoices and send payments to the con artists. The most recent instance of the scam occurred at the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, consisting of numerous phone calls over the month of March. The office recognized the scam and reported the incident to the police. Halstead said UT employees should be vigilant because the University has been targeted before.

“Any big business, corporation or university has the potential for things to be lost in the shuffle. Things can be missed,” Halstead said. “[Crime prevention] starts with the most basic level available; the first person that makes contact with the criminal on the phone.”

In addition to the phoner toner scam in Central Austin, APD reported two suspects have been conducting a separate pigeon drop scam in North Central Austin. The scam artists claim to be from South Africa and gain the trust of their victims before gaining the contents of their bank accounts.

The first suspect shows the victim a sum of money and asks for a ride to a bank. The suspect and the victim then bump into the second suspect, who pretends to have no connection to the first, and both convince the victim to withdraw a sum of money and give it to the suspects as proof of how people can be trusted. The suspects in this case — two 60 year-old black men — target the elderly, according to APD.

Julie Moody, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said adult protective services investigates the exploitation, abuse or neglect of the elderly and disabled.

Moody said unexplained withdrawals of large sums of money from a bank account or someone unrelated accompanying an elderly person to the bank are signs of exploitation.

“If we find evidence of exploitation, we do provide services,” Moody said. “Let’s say they need help with rent or utilities, referrals for other social services and guardianship services.”

The elderly are prone to put themselves into situations where they become vulnerable, and Moody said the department’s job is to prevent those situations from occurring and help the victims when exploitation does occur.