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Friday, September 10, 2010

BBB concerned with the rise in senior fraud – Part 2

Yesterday, in Part 1, we discussed the basic plight of the seniors who are experiencing an increasing number of fraud attempts, according to Paulette Scarpetti, President of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. The scams were identified, and the demographics of the issue were laid out in detail. It is not a pretty picture. There are almost 35 million seniors in jeopardy of being victimized, with 16.7 million of those age 75+ the most vulnerable. Now that we know who we are, exactly what do we have to worry about?

Howard Schwartz, the Connecticut BBB Communications Director has put the scams together in a neat package that is convenient for the seniors and their families. If you guard against this group of frauds, you will be protected against those most likely to be used today. Of course, the crooks are developing new ones every day, which I am sure the BBB is staying on top of.

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams - The victim typically receives a letter in the mail claiming he or she has won a lottery or sweepstakes. The letter instructs the victim to deposit an enclosed check and then wire a portion back to the company to cover taxes or administration fees. The check turns out to be fake, and the victim loses whatever they wired back to the scammers—often thousands of dollars.

BBB Advice: Never wire money to someone you don’t know. You should never have to send money to receive any winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes.

Medicare Scams - Commonly, a scammer will claim to be with Medicare and ask for personal information such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers. Con artists give a variety of reasons for requiring this information such as updating information on file or that the information is needed for the senior to be eligible to receive free products or a new prescription drug plan.

BBB Advice: Remind elderly family members that Medicare will never call to ask for sensitive personal financial information.

Bereavement Scams - In one recent example, a mother and daughter team in Ohio found targets by scouring the obituaries. They would then call the widow or widower and claim that their spouse had outstanding debts that needed to be paid immediately. Victims were urged to provide a blank check or credit card.

BBB Advice: If you are uncertain about owing a debt when collectors call, ask for written confirmation.

Deceptive Sales – Some scams begin at the front door in the form of furnace repairmen, contractors, door-to-door salespeople, air duct cleaners and other service providers. Some professionals will lie about the extent of the problem or claim safety issues and then inflate prices for unsuspecting older customers.

BBB Advice: Find professionals you can trust by checking out a company with your BBB at 203-269-2700, extension 2 before you hand over any money.

Investment and Work-at-Home Opportunities - The pitch might come in the form of an investment opportunity that promises big returns, or as a way to make money at home for an upfront cost. Regardless of the specifics, the victim is offered what sounds like a great opportunity but the extra income never materializes.

BBB Advice: Always research any work-at-home opportunity with BBB. Beware of investment or money-making offers that seem too good to be true or use high pressure sales tactics to get you to sign up immediately.

Grandparent scam - Telephone calls come from someone claiming to be a relative who is stuck in a foreign country and needs money to get home, or to help pay emergency medical bills or even bail.

BBB Advice: Ask the caller his or her name or other information that only a relative would know. Ask for a telephone number to call back so you can contact other family members to verify whether the caller in distress is, in fact, a relative who is out of town. A sure red flag is if the caller asks that money be sent by wire transfer.

Mailing lists targeting seniors – This is my own alert from spending 35 years in the junk mail business as a data broker. There are actually mailing lists categorized as “The Gullibles,” those who respond to offers too good to be true, and these are broken down by age in order to reach seniors who are the most vulnerable.

The Dunning Letter Advice – Try to screen your seniors’ mail, particularly the elderly, without violating their privacy. In many cases, they will thank you for it later. Look for offers that promise something that is “too good to be true.” Also be on the lookout for envelopes with no identification of the sender, designed to lure a curious senior inside to the trap. Since the bad guys are targeting this age group, in many cases concentrating on those age 75+, you will be doing your family members a favor by helping them with their mail.

Folks, this is critical, and it is time for all family members to come to the aid of their elders, and do it now.

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