Protecting older Americans from fraud

According to the FTC, telemarketing fraud against senior citizens is substantial. Senior citizens are an easy target for some unscrupulous marketers because they are often home and have access to a lifetime of savings. In addition, individuals who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite; normally desirable, but scammers may abuse this trait and take advantage of their trusting nature. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warns seniors to be particularly wary of:

-Health insurance fraud. Never sign blank insurance claim forms or give broad authorization to anyone to bill for services. Keep detailed records of all health care appointments and make sure you are aware of any equipment ordered for you by your physician.

-Counterfeit prescription drugs. Talk with your pharmacist or doctor if your prescription medicine looks suspicious. Do not purchase medications from websites that don’t require a prescription.

-Funeral and cemetery fraud. Get the details of all proposed plans and purchases in writing; remember to carefully read contracts and purchasing agreements before signing. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.

-Fraudulent anti-aging products. Be suspicious of medical “breakthroughs” and always talk with your doctor before taking any dietary or nutritional supplement.

Obviously, all consumers should steer clear of get-rich-quick schemes and suspicious “contests.” Unfortunately, thieves adapt as consumers become educated; fraud has seeped its way into more trustworthy covers including “charities,” credit repair, loans, travel, online auctions and work-from-home offers. Following are some ways to foil fraud:

-Be informed. You can educate yourself about current known scams by visiting IDTheftCenter.com.

-Practice due diligence. Before making any purchase, find out if any complaints have been registered with the Attorney General’s office. While a clean complaint record is not a guarantee, it is a step in the right direction.

-Be wary of high pressure appeals. Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making. Legitimate companies should not intimidate you into making an on-the-spot donation or purchase.

-Be skeptical. If someone promises you an easy way to make fast cash, be wary. Carefully read the fine print of any contract before you sign.

-Protect your information. Never give your account number or other personal information over the telephone unless you initiate the call. Attempts by ID thieves to obtain personal information by posing as a legitimate business, called Phishing, comprise one of the top ten fraud categories. For more information, visit PhishingInfo.org.

-Remember your budget. Even if a solicitation proves to be legitimate, ask yourself if it is really something you want. Remember, before they called you probably didn’t know you “needed” what they’re selling.

-Head them off at the pass. Ask telemarketers to put you on their “do not call” list. Under federal law, they are required to comply. If they continue to call you can sue them in small claims court for $500. For information on how to stop unsolicited email spam, review your state’s laws at SpamLaws.com. To subscribe to the national Do Not Call Registry, visit FTC.gov/donotcall/.

If you suspect a scam, call the National Fraud Information Center at 800-876-7060. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.