"If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is"

Protecting Seniors from Fraud

Unfortunately, criminals and con artists often target vulnerable seniors. Scams and unethical sales methods aimed at older people can cause serious financial loss. Seniors who have been victimized are often ashamed to discuss the incident. Educate yourself and older loved ones about crooked sweepstakes, identity theft and unscrupulous salespersons.

We are bombarded by solicitations, contest forms and requests for donations—in our mailbox, by phone, in our e-mail, at the front door, in magazines.

Legitimate companies and charities use these sales methods. But so do unscrupulous businesses and con artists. They defraud consumers of billions of dollars every year. And many of their victims are older adults.

Scams and unethical sales methods aimed at older people can cause serious financial loss. Here are just a few types of fraud:

  • High pressure sales (vitamins, magazine subscriptions, etc.)
  • Worthless investments
  • Deceptive "work at home opportunities"
  • Multilevel marketing (pyramid schemes)
  • Sweepstakes and contests that require the "winner" to buy something or make an expensive 900-number call
  • Dishonest contractors or service providers
  • Phony charities
  • Identity theft
  • Quack medical devices or treatments

Older adults are targeted for a number of reasons. They often have money in the bank. They may be home during the day, with more time to listen to sales pitches. A person who feels lonely and isolated may be an easy mark for a "friendly stranger." And many older adults find it hard to just hang up on a salesperson. Declining mental or physical condition may also be a factor.

  • Here are some warning signs that ought to set off your "red light":
  • You are offered something for nothing.
  • A salesperson is overly friendly and wants to talk about your personal life.
  • You are asked to call a 900-number.
  • You are told you have won a prize...if you buy something, pay "shipping costs," "gift tax," etc.
  • A salesperson pressures you to give out the number of your credit card or bank account.
  • A "work at home" offer promises big money.
  • You buy vitamins or personal care products from a salesperson—who then offers you the "opportunity" to sell the products as well.
  • A salesperson hesitates to provide information about the company or charity.

How can you avoid being cheated? Comparison shop for price and quality before you decide on a purchase. Deal with reputable merchants who have a long-term interest in maintaining satisfied customers. Avoid any buying situation where the seller resorts to high pressure sales tactics. Be very cautious about giving out your credit card number or bank account number. Check with your health care provider before purchasing or using medical devices or food supplements. Avoid calling 900-numbers. Never buy anything just to get a free gift. Don't respond to any e-mail offers. Shred any documents, receipts, etc. that contain personal information, such as social security number, bank account or credit card numbers.

And remember: just because someone wants you to buy something doesn't mean you have to. Practice saying "no."

For more information, or if you feel that you or a family member has been defrauded, find out your legal rights. A good place to start is the Consumer Protection Division of your state Office of the Attorney General. A number of federal and state laws are designed to protect consumers from unethical business practices. The Federal Trade Commission or the Postal Inspector may also be of help. If an older person has been victimized before, he or she becomes a more likely target, so consider changing the phone number and making it unlisted. The telephone company can also block all outgoing 900 numbers. And a family member or friend can help the person sort through mail to separate legitimate mail from junk.

Remember—the motto of every consumer should be: if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is!


Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge; copyright 2012, IlluminAge.