Arlington, VA., October 11, 2006 - With the weather turning cooler, many seniors will spend more time at home, which is not always a safe haven.
Better Business Bureaus (BBB) today issued an international alert urging the families of senior citizens to safeguard their homes against scam artists.
Scam artists aren't looking for items to steal. They seek to obtain personal information (Social Security, bank account and credit card number) and/or money. And, unlike traditional burglars, scam artists are happy to find someone at home, particularly if that person is a senior citizen.
"Con artists consider seniors to be easy prey and choose their entryway accordingly: the telephone, the front door bell or the mailbox," said Steve Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Ways to Scam Seniors
To many of us, the following scenarios would seem unbelievable. To the BBB, they are typical examples of frauds that frequently target the elderly.
- Sweepstakes/foreign lotteries: An elderly man in Ohio was mailed a bogus "Award Notification" from the International Lotto Commission in Spain, claiming he won $815,590. He raced to Spain, where he was told to meet the manager of the lottery's finance company at a local bank. He would receive his lottery check if he paid 5% of his winnings plus an additional $8,150 fee. He finally realized it was a scam and flew home.
- Health-related: Elderly Hoosiers are receiving phone calls from the "National Medical Office" and other official-sounding "agencies." The caller warns their Medicare cards are about to expire. To prevent this, seniors must provide their bank account number so the "agency" can quickly deduct a one-time fee (ranging from $200-$400).
- Home repairs: In Houston, elderly minorities are responding to mailbox flyers offering loans for home repairs. They don't realize the loans have a 19-21% interest rate. The contractor later convinces them to sign a "work has been completed" form and disappears without performing the repairs. On the West Coast, an elderly woman reports that she was charged $900 to have her circuit breakers "cleaned."
- Door-to-door Scams: In Newfoundland, salespeople went house to house demonstrating "new" vacuum cleaners to senior citizens; the machines turned out to be used. In Toledo, a woman recently knocked on doors in a senior citizen neighborhood, sometimes after 10:00 p.m. If the resident opened the door, she barged in to falsely claim she was selling Girl Scout cookies and needed to collect the money now.
Why are Seniors at Risk?
"Seniors can be vulnerable due to their age and their living conditions," said one BBB executive.
They trust strangers who are friendly and appear to have the senior's best interests at heart. They are also vulnerable to offers claiming to assist with the cost of prescription drugs, or costs of maintaining a home.
Senior citizens are frequently at home, making them ready prey for fraudulent telemarketers and drive-by "contractors." Seniors who live alone may lack a family member to help them make good choices. Or, they may reside in low-income or senior citizen neighborhoods – common targets for scam artists.
Check, Protect and Defend
The BBB recommends that family members, neighbors and friends of elderly citizens take a three-pronged approach – Check, Protect and Defend -- to help them from being defrauded.
- Insist that your elderly relative check with the BBB whenever they receive a phone call, a piece of mail, a flyer or a visit from an unknown person, business or charity. Urge them to call the BBB before they let anyone into their home, hand over any money or personal or financial information, sign any contract or donate any money.
- Encourage them to protect their personal information. They should not carry their Social Security card in their wallet or purse. Warn them to never give out their mother's maiden name, their Social Security number, bank account number or credit card number to an unknown individual, no matter how tempting the offer.
- Help defend against scam artist intruders. Put the senior's phone number on the National Do Not Call registry (phone 1.888.382.1222) to reduce calls from telemarketers. Post a "No Solicitation" notice by their front door. Help them to sort through their incoming mail. Explain why they shouldn't respond to certain advertisements and point out suspicious mailings. Watch TV with them to check their interest in infomercials. Discourage them from sending money in response to "too good to be true" offers.