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Don’t be a victim of a scam

Geronotologist Alexis Abramson has advice and resources for seniors to avoid being ripped-of.
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It’s no secret that the elderly are victims of scam artists more than most. After all, they come from a generation where a handshake meant something, and honesty was a quality you could assume. Somehow, things were simpler then. Why are the elderly any more likely than anyone else to be scammed? There’s more than one reason. Geronotologist Alexis Abramson has advice on how to avoid being the next victim.

HAVING GROWN UP in a kinder, gentler era, older people are sometimes too polite and trusting. They may assume others know more about business than they do, especially if dazzled by a slick sales pitch.

Women, in particular, may have grown up at a time when females and finances didn’t mix. If living alone, they could be susceptible to the attention of a friendly stranger, who may remind them of a son or daughter. Economic pressures can add to the problem — as our life spans increase, more older Americans worry about “outliving their savings” and being dependent on (or having nothing to pass on to) family members.

Still more factors can make them vulnerable: medications or physical limitations may cloud judgment. And, if a person is approached while they’re still adjusting to a traditional retirement and feeling at loose ends, the desire to be busy and have a daily purpose may cause them to jump into the wrong “time filler.”


You get a call or postcard from someone telling you you’ve won a prize and asking for payment to buy something, for processing or administrative fees, for customs, for taxes, or any other reason. Legitimate sweepstakes or prize offers don’t ask for payment because it’s illegal.

The person says you have to take the offer immediately or you’ll miss the opportunity. Legitimate companies don’t pressure people to act without time to look into the deal.

The caller refuses to send you written information before you commit to anything. Legitimate companies are always glad to send information about what they’re offering.

The caller claims that you can make huge profits in an investment with no risk. All investments are risky and legitimate companies must tell consumers about the possible risks involved.

The caller is asking for a donation but won’t tell you exactly how the money will be used and how you can verify the charity and what it does. Legitimate charities are willing to say what percentage of contributions is used for services and how much goes to overhead and fundraising. They are also willing to tell consumers who they can check with to confirm that they are legitimate.

The caller insists that you send your payment by a private courier or wire money. Legitimate companies don’t try to keep people from checking the deal out and changing their minds, or try to evade the postal authorities, by demanding immediate payment by courier or wire.

The company asks for cash. Legitimate companies don’t ask for cash, but con artists do because they often have trouble getting merchant approval from the credit card companies, and they also want to be hard to trace.

The caller asks for your social security number. Legitimate companies don’t ask for that unless you are applying for credit and they need to check your credit report.

The caller asks for your credit card number, bank account number, or other financial information when you aren’t buying anything or paying with those accounts. Legitimate companies only ask for financial information to bill you or debit your account for purchases you’ve agreed to make.

The company calls you relentlessly or after you’ve asked not to be called anymore. Legitimate companies will take “no” for an answer and will take you off their calling lists if you ask. Con artists will keep on calling to wear you down or get more money from you.

The company offers to get you a loan, or credit, or a credit card, or to “repair” your bad credit if you pay an up-front fee. Legitimate lenders and credit card issuers do not demand payment in advance, and no one can get bad information removed from a credit file if it is accurate.

The company offers to get back money that you have lost to another fraudulent scheme if you pay an up-front fee. Law enforcement agencies don’t ask for payment to try to help consumers get their money back, and it’s illegal for a company to ask for advance payment for such services.



Don’t blame the person for being foolish. Scam artists are good at what they do, and they especially target older Americans. Show empathy with your loved ones, and let them know they’re not alone. Consumers of all education and economic backgrounds lose $40 billion a year to telemarketing scams alone.

Underscore the criminal nature of scams — and the consequences it creates for your loved one. Scam artists succeed by establishing rapport and empathy with their victims. The more your loved one understands the harm that comes from the relationship, the more likely he or she will recognize the risk.

Teach your loved one how to react to potential scams. In most instances, if they hang up or refuse a door-to-door salesperson when they suspect fraud, they’ll prevent the scam from occurring.

, or write the organization at 1111 19th St., N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20036.) Many states also offer “do not call” lists, and the FTC is even considering a national “do not call” list for telemarketing.

Suggest changing your loved one’s phone number. It may cost a few extra dollars a month but it is worth it.


Someone calls or emails to let the senior know they have won something. Maybe money. Or they’ve got a terrific deal for you. All you have to do to get it is send some of your own money. And quickly. They may ask you to read your credit card number over the phone. Obviously there’s no prize or deal. They want you to send money so they can keep it. HANG UP immediately and if you really want to scare them tell them you will first have to discuss it with your son, who happens to work for the FBI.

Home Repair

An individual stops by your house saying that they just happened to be in the neighborhood. They happen to have a special deal going just for the elderly. Or maybe they’re offering free inspections. At some point, they will tell you that something is seriously wrong with something in your house. So serious that it’s an emergency. So serious that they need you to give them a check or a credit card right away to fix it.

They’re just trying to frighten you into taking action — giving them money — without your having time to think about it. There’s nothing wrong with your house. There’s no emergency. Take your time, if you really think there’s something wrong, get at least three other bids on the work. Check the license number of any contractor. If they don’t have a license number, don’t work with them.

Living Trusts

You receive a telephone call from out of the blue invites you to a seminar to get help to arrange your financial affairs or your estate. The seminar organizers also have a few good investments for you. You might even win a prize or a trip. They’re not interested in helping with your estate. They want you to tell them all about your confidential financial affairs so they can steal your money, or make huge commissions on bad investments. Obviously don’t attend these seminars. In some states you can check to see if lawyers have been disbarred due to the fact that they have participated in these types of scams.

Anti-Fraud and Abuse Activities

Administration on Aging is dedicated to preventing instances of Medicare and Medicaid fraud, waste and abuse. By educating aging network personnel and training retired volunteers in communities across the country to look at benefit statements, AoA wants to make older Americans and their advocates better health care consumers.

Fraud Defense Network

Founded in 1994 at the request of several insurance companies, the Fraud Defense Network is now the leading connection point for the anti-fraud community. FDN acts as the Internet conduit to provide access to investigative information. Their commitment to the reduction of the 130 billion dollars lost per year to insurance fraud drives the services currently offered. Members access a multitude of information transference technologies and database index systems to assist in the investigation and reduction of fraudulent activity.

A toll free telephone service established in 1993, INFOLINK offers immediate referrals to the closest, most appropriate services in the victim’s community. Through its national database, the National Center refers crime victims to an array of critical services including crisis intervention, research information, assistance with the criminal justice process, counseling and support groups. Hours of operation for 1-800-FYI-CALL (1-800-394-2255): 8:30 a.m. — 8:30 p.m. EST

National Center on Elder Abuse

NCEA exists to provide elder abuse information to professionals and the public; offer technical assistance and training to elder abuse agencies and related professionals; conduct short-term elder abuse research; and assist with elder abuse program and policy development. NCEA’s website contains many resources and publications to help achieve these goals. Phone: (202) 898-2586. Fax: (202) 898-2583 E-mail: Mail: 1225 I Street, N.W., Suite 725, Washington, D.C. 20005.

The NFIC is the only nationwide toll-free hotline for consumers to get advice about telephone solicitations and report possible telemarketing fraud to law enforcement agencies. In 1996, the Internet Fraud Watch was created, enabling the NFIC to offer consumers advice about promotions in cyberspace and route reports of suspected online and Internet fraud to the appropriate government agencies. Consumers can call the NFIC hotline toll-free at 1-800-876-7060.

This Web site is the premier Internet resource for the security professional. The site features industry and product news, computer alerts, travel advisories, a calendar of events, a directory of products and services, and access to an extensive virtual security library. Be sure to visit their scams and alerts information center.