CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cook County sheriff’s office is warning of a scam targeting elderly men in the suburbs, using middle-aged women to seduce them.

The “sweetheart scams” are occurring particularly in the southwest Cook County suburbs, according to a sheriff’s office news release. Members of a ring of suspects have targeted older single men at the grocery store, the neighborhood diner, the bowling alley, and even at their own homes as they do yard work.

In the scam, a crew will spy on the man for several days, before sending out a middle-aged woman to engage him in friendly conversation. The woman will then make a “date” or plan lunch with the man and seduce him, leading him to believe a relationship has begun, the sheriff’s office said.

Then the woman will claim to be in a horrific financial situation, such as having a relative who can’t pay for surgery, a child who can’t pay tuition to finish college, and other emotional situations.

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“That’s when the kind-hearted man says not to worry about it and writes the first check to her,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said in a news release. “Then, there’s another traumatic incident where someone needs money. Then there’s another. And another. These people are like vampires – they absolutely will not stop until he is drained of everything. Then they move on. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”

Making matters worse, the victims are reluctant to report the incidents to police. Sometimes they are embarrassed, other times they are still deluded into believing that the women were really their “girlfriends” and would someday return the money.

The men are alert and of sound mind and willingly hand over the money, which makes it hard to prove a crime occurred, the sheriff’s office said.

In one specific situation, a man helped a woman pay off court-ordered restitution for a similar scam in which she was convicted out of state. In another, a suburban man parted with nearly $400,000, the sheriff’s office said.

Sheriff Tom Dart found out about the scam through the work of its Senior Citizens Academy, and the sheriff’s police Financial Crimes and Public Corruption Unit. Those units in turn found out about the scams through a meeting with caseworkers from the PLOWS Council on Aging in Palos Heights.

“These sweethearts aren’t going away,” PLOWS’s Velencia Myton said in the release. “Their bold craft of seduction and exploitation of older men is their livelihood and is passed on from mother to daughter.”

The people involved in the scams are already known to law enforcement for other con games and financial schemes in the suburbs. In some instances, the mothers of the women now involved in the scams were committing similar schemes themselves in their day.

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