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
  • 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
  • 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 To subscribe to the national Do Not Call Registry, visit

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 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.

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