Scammers targeting seniors

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Every year, our office receives numerous requests from seniors who are concerned about a suspicious caller, unusual activity, or a bogus offer. In fact, earlier this year, a caller reportedly paid a contactor more than $100,000 to build a house. The contractor finished the foundation and framed the structure, but never completed any other work. The senior called the Office on Aging for help, which intervened to advocate on the senior’s behalf through legal assistance to settle the case in full.
Though this is a large-scale example, situations like this one, unfortunately, are not uncommon. Senior citizens are targeted by scammers because they are typically home for a majority of the day and often have more idle time following retirement. Nationwide, older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year to fraud.
The majority of older adults are very trusting, have an affection for helping others, and are always willing to listen. It is also this kindheartedness that leaves them susceptible to companies and individuals that prey on their good nature.
Below is a list of some common scams:
u Bill relief scam – A scammer disguised as an agent with the current presidential administration will call with money available to help pay your utility bills.
u Door-to-door sales – Remember that representatives from Medicare or the Social Security Administration will never visit your home to solicit their programs.
u Telemarketing fraud – High pressure tactics that are used to pressure you into buying a product or service, such as a “low-cost” or “free” vacation.
u Prize & Sweepstakes Scams – Mail that looks official, claiming you won a large sum of money or a valuable “prize” if you send them some money to receive it. You cannot win a sweepstakes or drawing if you did not enter it.
Surely, if a company can give you a million dollars, they can afford to pay for delivery. If you have to pay to receive your “prize,” the offer probably is not legitimate.
u E-mail scams – With an increasing number of senior adults using e-mail and the Internet, you need to be equally on guard there.
Here are some ways you can protect yourself and lessen your chances of being scammed:
u Guard your personal information. Do not disclose your address, account numbers, usernames, passwords, driver’s license number, credit card information, birth date or Social Security number to anyone you do not know. Be suspicious of anyone who threatens to withhold your benefits if you do not comply.
u Shred your mail. Use a paper shredder to destroy old mail (including bank statements) that contains personal information. By using a small amount of information, thieves can cause big problems and possibly assume your identity.
u Stop telemarketer calls by adding your number to the National Do Not Call Registry at 1 (888) 382-1222.
u When beginning home improvement projects, be sure to ask for local references and contact them. Never pay for an entire job up front.
u Always research organizations and charities to which you donate money to make sure they are legitimate.
Hundreds of scams and frauds go unreported each year in our state because seniors either blame themselves for being taken advantage of or they are too embarrassed to let authorities know about the situation.
A good rule of thumb is always the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” You’ve heard it throughout your entire life, and it remains the best advice that anyone can give.
I encourage you to educate yourself on other possible scams and ways to prevent them. Please visit our website, www.aging.sc.gov, for additional resources on this topic.
Question of the Week
Q: I think I may be a victim of fraud. What should I do?
A:  You should:
u Call your local law enforcement agency.
u Contact the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs at 1 (800) 922-1594.
u Or reach the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging at 1 (800) 868-9095.
For details, contact the S.C. Lieutenant Governor’s Of­fice on Aging (803) 734-9900 or (800) 868-9095 or visit www.aging.sc.gov.