October is “Protecting Older Americans from Fraud” month

The nation's Better Business Bureaus are 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. To provide focus to this effort, October has been declared "Protecting Older Americans from Fraud month."

“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,” said local Bureau president Randy Hutchinson.

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.

Typical of scams that target the elderly was the recent one where 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. This is in addition to the many foreign lotteries, Nigerian letters, phishing scams and other tricks used to separate vulnerable seniors from their life savings.

If you have responsibility for or influence with senior citizens, there are some steps you should encourage them to take:

  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l1 level1 lfo5">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).

  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l1 level1 lfo5">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).

  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l1 level1 lfo5">Urge them to tell any suspicious telephone caller that they are going to check with the BBB before agreeing to anything and do so.

  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l1 level1 lfo5">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/postal inspectors.

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:

  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l2 level1 lfo4">frequent phone calls during daytime hours from a “nice” man or lady;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l2 level1 lfo4">excessive knickknacks or prizes received through the mail;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l2 level1 lfo4">regular use of special couriers rather than the U.S. Postal Service;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l2 level1 lfo4">multiple money orders or certified cashier checks drawn from a local bank;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l2 level1 lfo4">a hesitation to discuss their prizes, sweepstakes or purchases; or
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l2 level1 lfo4">questionable or unexplainable checkbook debits and credit card charges.

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:

Mail:

  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l4 level1 lfo1">Never pay money to win a prize or sweepstakes;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l4 level1 lfo1">Read all pages before considering the offer;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l4 level1 lfo1">Contact the BBB BEFORE responding to a product or service offer or an appeal from a charity.

Telephone:

  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l3 level1 lfo2">Never give out credit card or bank account numbers to unknown callers;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l3 level1 lfo2">Ask for information in writing from charities;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l3 level1 lfo2">Be skeptical of high pressure or emotional requests and hang up;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l3 level1 lfo2">Never wire money to strangers;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l3 level1 lfo2">Report all questionable calls to the BBB BEFORE responding to the offer.

In-Home:

  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo3">Never hire someone who just shows up at your door;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo3">Get three estimates in writing;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo3">Make sure the company is licensed and insured;
  • class="MsoNormal" style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo3">Contact the BBB BEFORE admitting any unknown person into your home or signing anything.

The Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South serves West Tennessee, North Mississippi, and East Arkansas. Membership is reserved for leading businesses that meet the BBB’s standards and support its efforts to inform and protect the public. Visit the BBB’s web site at www.midsouth.bbb.org.