Wayne Adult Community Center

Feature article from the January, 2006 Newsletter

Scams Aimed at Seniors Are On the Rise

Seniors have always been a ripe target for confidence men (and confidence women), scam artists and other nefarious people. In recent years, the problem has become worse due to a variety of factors that need not be discussed here.

The array of scams is familiar but there are a few new ones, and some of the older ones are being given new twists.

The Mail is not widely used for scams these days, because the offender can be charged with mail fraud. However, one of the newer scams does use the mail, but it skirts the line between “misleading” and “fraud”:

You receive something that looks like a bill. It may be marked any number of things including “Second Notice” or “Renewal Notice”, and it may even contain a customer number. But it is in fact a promotional mailing, and the way the sender escapes a charge of fraud is to mark the item, sometimes in very small print and on the back page: “This is not a bill”.

Carefully read any “bill” you receive. Is it from someplace that you actually deal with (watch for names similar but not identical to, names of well-known organizations). Pay particular attention to fine print. Come to think of it, always pay attention to fine print not only in bills, but in agreements for such things as credit cards and other financial obligations whose terms may at first seem attractive. The catch is often in the fine print.

The Internet is a particularly lucrative conduit for scams, so we’ll begin by listing a few of the things you need to watch out for there:

You receive a heartfelt plea to contribute to a worthwhile cause such as the Katrina disaster. However, many of those appeals are from people who will keep the money for themselves. Some of the appeals are obviously phony, but others are not obvious, and may for instance have a “From” address that looks as if it came from a reputable organization. The problem is that those addresses are easy to falsify, therefore the best advice is simply not to respond to any appeals you receive over the Internet.

An Email message arrives, purportedly from your bank, your credit card company, or some other enterprise with which you do business, asking you to verify your personal information such as bank account number or credit card number. Don’t! No reputable company would send such an email. The best practice: Don’t send sensitive information over the Internet, and don’t send it by any other means either, except in response to a contact that YOU have initiated or whose destination you have verified.

An old but continuing scam is an Email appeal from a “high official” in some foreign country, asking that you serve as a conduit for a large amount of money, in exchange for which you will get a substantial piece of the action. It usually asks for your bank account number so that they can transfer the money there. Don’t send it unless you want your account drained. Or it may instead ask for “earnest money” to show that you are serious. Don’t be fooled.

Telephone scams continue to be popular. Here is one:

You get a phone call from someone claiming either that one of your relatives who lives far away has suffered a major injury or some other disaster, and is in desperate need of money.

Unless you know the relative and can send the money directly to them through a well known service such as Western Union, don’t send it. And before taking the story as genuine, check it out. If you’re told that you can’t speak to the relative because he or she is too badly injured, ask what hospital he or she is in, and then look up the number and call to verify that your relative is actually there and cannot speak. DON’T use a phone number given to you by the caller; find the number of the hospital yourself.

Home Improvement is always a rich source of scams. Come-ons include:

He was “just passing your house” and noticed that it needs some work urgently, such as a roof repair. He has materials left over from a job he just finished, and can give you a good deal on the materials and the work. He just happen to have someone with him who can arrange easy financing. (The rates are likely to be high.) Fraudulent contractors often claim that they need money for their materials up front. If their supplier doesn’t trust them, neither should you. A modest deposit is reasonable for them to ask, but it should not exceed more than a small fraction of the total. And before you hire anyone for major work, check them out (see below), ask to see their license and their proof of insurance, and ask for proof that their employees are bonded. Have a written contract itemizing all work in detail, specifying time limits, and specifying what happens if the time limits are exceeded.

Door to Door scams include:

A request by a stranger to use your phone to report an accident. Leave the stranger locked outside and offer to make the call. You let two strangers into your house for some reason. Don’t let one of them engage you while the other goes out of sight. The absent person may be checking out your house for a later burglary, or may be searching for cash and valuables to steal immediately.

This article is able only to give a few examples of scams, and a few bits of advice; there are many more scams, such as the one below that counts on your having a faulty memory:

Someone phones you and claims that you and he or she spoke several months ago, and that you told them you would invest with them in a few months.

In General: To check on an organization or business before you sign a contract of make a donation, call the Consumer Affairs division. The phone number for the Consumer Service Center local to this area is 800-242-5846.

W. A. Shapiro