NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Seniors and Fraud

Seniors and Fraud


            Senior citizens are a frequent target of con artists.  Why would individuals who have often worked hard all their life be on the hit list for fraudsters? Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.

            Seniors, who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.

            Also, older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.  Even when an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.

            Learn to protect your valuable assets by following these simple rules:

            - Never reveal your bank account numbers or other personal information to someone who calls you on the phone.

             Door-to-door con artists pressure and even intimidate homeowners by telling them that they need urgent home improvements such as driveway paving, roofing or siding repair. Then they perform shoddy work or fail to finish, but still try to collect money, even demanding more than agreed and threatening to foreclose on the home.  Never sign contracts that have any blank lines in them

            -Work only with licensed and insured contractors. Call your state contractors licensing board to verify licenses, and ask all contractors to provide proof of insurance. Check customer references. Get other bids for the work.

            -  “You have won the Canadian lottery. Just give us your bank account or credit card information and we’ll send you the money.” Such calls and e-mails are bogus—the crooks make money by convincing victims to pay for processing, taxes or delivery, or provide bank account information in order to “verify” their identities.

            Don’t fall for fake emergency appeals. In this con, someone phones you anonymously and asks, “Do you know who this is?” They hope you will assume it is a friend or relative. Then the caller claims to be in jail or in desperate need of cash. Many people have been tricked into wiring money to a stranger. Never volunteer information to someone who calls you on the phone.

             Keep an eye on your credit cards at all times, even when you hand them to a waiter or shop clerk. Devices called “skimmers” allow unscrupulous employees to steal the information from your credit card and sell it to people who make counterfeit cards. Crooks also look for discarded credit card statements and receipts to use to create fake cards.  Always review your bill when it arrives and call your credit card issuer immediately if you see any charges you didn’t authorize.

            A call is generally a scam if the caller asks for a social security number, a credit card number, or a bank account number if you are not buying anything or paying with those accounts.

            Legitimate sweepstakes or prize offers do not ask for payments because it is illegal.  Be aware of calls from people making offers for alleged valuable awards or great money-making opportunities, or asking for charitable donations.

            Remember, regulations from the Federal Trade Commission on telemarketing:

• Callers must identify their company and product being sold.

• If a prize is offered, they must inform you that "no purchase/payment" is needed to win.

• They cannot ask you to pay in advance for services.

• They cannot call you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. (local time).

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