CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's senior citizens grew up in a more "kindler and gentler time," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says.
That's why he, and other law enforcement officials, are trying to educate older West Virginians in particular about the dangers of widespread consumer scams and frauds.
"I am going to senior citizen centers all over the state," Goodwin said in a recent interview. "I also talk to Rotary Clubs, Lion's Clubs and the Chamber of Commerce.
"Seniors are home more than younger people. And they are more likely to have listed phone numbers," he said.
Goodwin repeated what many authorities and businesses have told people before: Avoid giving out any personal or financial information over the phone, on the Internet or to anyone you do not know.
"Legitimate businesses will not ask you for your credit card number over the telephone. Don't give that information over the phone," he said.
Goodwin said many scammers are "really good. They work very hard to be convincing. After they make some of their calls, they get to collect West Union checks. Or they ask for Green Dot pre-paid cards, or Rite-Aid and Kroger cards -- cards that are already paid for. Then they have the money right in their hands."
He remembers a scam where "a man who represented himself to be a lawyer in Malaysia called an elderly man in Huntington.
"He told the man he was trying to collect an inheritance for him if he would send a little bit of money for fees. The lawyer kept calling and the man kept sending him more money. Finally, he determined that maybe he was getting tricked.
"The so-called lawyer kept calling and calling, saying he would be prosecuted in Malaysia if he did not continue sending money," Goodwin said. "Then he reached out to my office. One of my assistants was sure he was the victim of a scam
"We asked him how much money he had sent. He had sent $120,000," Goodwin said. "The chances of his getting the $120,000 back? Slim to none."
Last month, Goodwin's office indicted three people living in Maryland and New York -- Kacey K. Moise, Charnita E. Ryland and Sheray J. McKay. They allegedly scammed senior citizens out of more than $60,000 in one week. Federal charges allege they posed as family members of the victims and pretended to be clergy.
"After establishing their victims' trust, the defendants claimed to be facing a financial emergency and asked the victims to wire money right away," Goodwin said.
"Scams to steal from older West Virginians are downright shameful. Protecting our state's senior citizens is one of my top priorities. In 2014, we're going to work harder than ever to catch criminals who cheat seniors."
In that scheme, which took place in November 2012, the three people solicited money from 18 elderly people living in West Virginia and other states, ranging in age from 70 to 95.
The scammers "often falsely stated they had been in car accidents, had been arrested for driving while intoxicated, and needed money to get out of jail, They said they needed money to pay attorney's fees and make reimbursement for damages allegedly caused by their accidents."
Some of the elderly victims ended up making several wire transfers of money at the request of the callers, even though most of the victims had limited financial assets themselves.
McKay pleaded guilty on Friday morning. The other two are still scheduled for a trial, currently set for Tuesday, Goodwin said.
He said investigators were aided by the fact that the scammers were close by. "That is unusual for these sorts of scams," he said.
Goodwin's website offers people advice on how to avoid scams.