Scams target Suncoast elderly

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SARASOTA--When Mary Ellen Fortier's elderly parents in Bradenton got an email offering to buy the time share they were looking to sell, the supposed buyer initially sounded OK.

"He made it look like an actual transaction," said Fortier, "my mother felt good about that."

But then the buyer offered to mail Fortier's parents a check, which they were instructed to take money out of to wire via Western Union to the buyer's agent; a man supposedly living in Saudi Arabia.

"These people are very savvy, and so you have to watch out for that," said Fortier.

After receiving the supposed buyers check, Fortier made her parents wait to wire any money.

The bank determined the check was a fraud, saving her parents more than three thousand dollars.

Unfortunately Frances Smith-Merrill and her husband Stan weren't as lucky--they recently lost $1400 in a secret shopper scam.

"I kinda cried, extreme frustration, it was like somebody kicked you in the stomach," said Frances.

Frances received a legitimate-looking offer in the mail asking her to conduct market research on the efficiency of local money-wiring companies.

The scammers mailed her a check, which she deposited, then wired some money to the scammers as part of the supposed research.

Frances found out from her bank after the fact the check she'd received was a fake.

"It's my savings, I'm an artist," said Frances.

Two separate scams that ended very differently, but shared the same basic goal: swindling trusting seniors out of their money.

"If you're doing business with someone that you don't know, check the validity of their business," said Fortier.

Frances says she did do her homework. But the scammers used the name of a legitimate market research company, and just changed the contact information on the documents Frances received.

Despite that elaborate deception, there's one thing Stan and Frances say they should have known from the start.

"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, and we thought it sounded awfully good, it was easy money, and if its too easy, back off, back off, back off fast," said Stan.