[Arlington, VA., October 5, 2004] - The nation's Better Business Bureaus encourage the families and friends of older Americans to initiate a dialog about common types of fraud that target senior citizens.
"October is 'Protecting Older Americans from Fraud' month. The BBB system is partnering with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other agencies to focus attention on the schemes that bombard the telephones, mailboxes and even the e-mail accounts of older Americans," said Ken Hunter, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
"Many of us have a parent, friend or neighbor who would benefit from a friendly reminder that seniors are prime targets for scam artists. We can help prevent them from losing their money, their dignity and their sense of security."
The CBBB President recommended these immediate steps:
- help put the senior's phone number on the National Do Not Call registry by phoning 1.888.382.1222 or visiting www.donotcall.gov (this will help to limit phone calls from telemarketers);
- advise older Americans to never place their outgoing bill payments in an unsecured mailbox (thieves are adept at taking the envelopes, steaming them open, copying important information and stealing that person's identity);
- urge them to tell any suspicious telephone caller that they are going to check with the BBB before agreeing to anything and do so; and
- provide them with a new free DVD on investment fraud from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Entitled "Dialing for Dollars" the DVD can be ordered by calling toll-free 1.877.987.3728 or visiting www.usps.com/postalinspectors.
What's the problem?
Reports of identity theft targeting seniors have increased 200% over the past two years, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And, that's just one fraud scheme out of many that plague the elderly, often the most vulnerable and least able to afford being defrauded. Scams recently reported to BBBs illustrate the innovative ways that fraudsters secure the attention and savings of older Americans:
- Telephone solicitors claiming to be from the Federal Government tried to sell "Medicare-approved" discount drug cards to seniors. Elderly people were told to supply their bank account information so that "the government" could confirm their identity.
- Thieves using cell phones in Canada called seniors to advise they'd won a "multi million dollar lotto drawing." The seniors were told to send a $600 money order. One lady was tricked into sending $7,500.
- A person claiming to represent a "consumer benefits" group called to say that the senior's bank account was affected with an Internet virus and offered her a $500 gift certificate for the inconvenience. A computer recording followed, requesting confirmation of the senior's name and address and asking for authorization to charge the person's bank account $395 for the gift certificate.
- Cash prize "winner" announcements received through the mail stating that "you have won $10,000" and requesting that $9.95 be sent to a P.O. Box in New York to "pay for a courier to deliver the winnings."
What to do?
In addition to the action steps outlined above, the BBB advises citizens to look for signs that their elderly relative, friend or neighbor may be succumbing to appeals from scam artists. Next time you visit or chat with an older American you believe may be at risk, check for the following:
- frequent phone calls during daytime hours from a "nice" man or lady;
- excessive knickknacks or prizes received through the mail;
- regular use of special couriers rather than the U.S. Postal Service;
- multiple money orders or certified cashier checks drawn from a local bank;
- a hesitation to discuss their prizes, sweepstakes or purchases; or
- questionable or unexplainable checkbook debits and credit card charges.
What to advise seniors?
Whether or not you see tell-tale signs of defrauding, it's wise to remind your elderly relative or friend to follow common-sense practices. The following tips can help older Americans protect themselves:
- never pay money to win a prize or sweepstakes;
- read all pages before considering the offer;
- contact the BBB BEFORE responding to a product or service offer or an appeal from a charity.
- never give out credit card or bank account numbers to unknown callers;
- ask for information in writing from charities;
- be skeptical of high pressure or emotional requests and hang up;
- never wire money to strangers;
- report all questionable calls to the BBB BEFORE responding to the offer.
- never hire someone who just shows up at your door;
- get three estimates in writing;
- make sure the company is licensed and insured;
- contact the BBB BEFORE admitting any unknown person into your home or signing anything.