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Important Information on Senior Fraud and Scams

Every day senior citizens in South Carolina fall prey to unscrupulous individuals who seek to defraud and scam the elderly. In order to combat this growing problem, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging has aggressively targeted those who victimize senior citizens.

Consumer fraud is defined as any deception, pretense, false statement, false promise or misrepresentation made by a seller or advertiser of merchandise. Concealment, suppression, or failure to disclose a material fact may also be considered consumer fraud in certain instances. Merchandise is broadly defined to include any objects, wares, goods, commodities, real estate or services.

Avoiding Financial Exploitation

Savvy Saving Seniors

Older adults face complicated decisions about their finances, retirement choices, and long-term planning. The Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans is tasked with preventing unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices targeted at seniors. We have a Savvy Savings Seniors scams toolkit (small pdf file) for you to use.

Examples of Scams Targeting Senior Citizens

Medicare Discount Card Scams

The Medicare discount drug card is available to people enrolled in Medicare, but not everyone on Medicare is eligible. If you are in a state Medicare program that provides drug coverage, you cannot get a Medicare discount drug card.

Often scam-artists will call, email, or knock at your door to sell you this card. If they do so, it is a scam. Under the program, companies are allowed to advertise their cards by mail, TV, radio and newspapers or other print media. They, however, are not allowed to call, send emails, or do home visits unless YOU ask them.

You can protect yourself and your loved ones from such scams by visiting the Medicare Web site, www.medicare.gov, to access a list of approved cards and other information or call toll-free, 800-633-4227. AARP also has helpful information at www.aarp.org.

Charity Scams

Older Americans are very generous in helping others. However, there are many people looking to exploit the senior citizens’ good nature. The elderly are often asked by professional con-artists to supply credit card information to help the victims of a recent natural disaster. In addition to credit card fraud, senior citizens also are asked to provide their sensitive personal financial information including bank account numbers and Social Security numbers.

Most states require charities to register with the state, which reports how they use donations. The SC Secretary of State offers information available at http://www.scsos.com/ or call 803- 734-2170 for more information.

Prizes & Sweepstakes Scams

Senior citizens are the “high value” targets in this scheme. Many times scam artists will ask that seniors put down an advance payment to guarantee prize “winnings.” Others will ask that the senior citizen provide personal information before receiving “winnings.” These should be signs to avoid the questionable businesses or persons. The bottom line is, if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

To find more information on safeguarding yourself against prizes and sweepstakes scams, visit the National Consumers League at www.nclnet.org/.

Counterfeit Drug Scams

Due to the nature of aging, seniors are again the main target for these types of scams. The biggest potential these types of senior drug scams offer is through online “pharmacies.” Many of these online pharmacies will advertise cheaper, yet more effective, medications than the reputable pharmacy provides you. When the drugs arrive they are often useless knockoffs. The seniors lose the money, and their health is jeopardized.

In order to prevent this from happening to you, senior citizens can check out the South Carolina Board of Pharmacy at http://www.llronline.com/POL/pharmacy/ to find if the online pharmacy is officially licensed. If not, stay clear.

Funeral & Cemetery Fraud

Unfortunately, death is a part of life and often on the minds of senior citizens. It is also on the minds of those who seek to target the senior citizens’ money through scams. This may come from vendors who insist that embalming or having a casket is part of the cremation process. It is often a result of vendors selling expensive and unnecessary funeral services.

In this difficult time it is important to be aware of the types of funeral and cemetery costs. More information can be accessed at www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/seniorsfam.htm

Telemarketing Fraud

According to the FBI, individuals 60 years or older are prime targets for telemarketing fraud. Predators will often offer senior citizens a “free” or “low cost” vacation as long as you “act now.” If you hear such lines as the ones above, hang up. There are numerous other examples of telemarketing fraud that target the elderly.

For more information on telemarketing fraud go online to http://www.fraud.org or www.fraud.org/telemarketing/teleset.htm.

Magazine Subscription Scams

Seniors are often the targets of magazine subscription scams. Beware of telephone calls from people who offer “free” or “special” deals on particular magazines. These magazine scam artists may offer seniors a subscription for “dollars a day” that last for multiple years without telling them the important details.

In order to prevent this from happening to you go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/telemarketing/tel03.shtm for more information.

Nigerian Letter or “419” Fraud

Nigerian letter frauds target seniors due to the trusting nature of the aging population. These letters offer the “opportunity” to share some percentage of millions of dollars which the author, usually some sort of government official, is trying to transfer to America and to you and your bank account specifically.

Never give such personal information away. For more information on how to prevent “419” fraud visit www.fraud.org/tips/internet/nigerian.htm.

Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone assumes your identity in order to use your name or other personal information to perform a fraud or other criminal act.

Criminals can receive personal information through your wallet, trash, or from your credit cards or bank account numbers. Your Personal information is so abundant that you may not be able to prevent the theft of your identity. But you can take steps to minimize your risk.

You can visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ for more information and how to file a complaint if you believe you have been a victim of identity theft. Additional instructions are also available on the web site.

Jury Duty Scam

This has been verified by the FBI (see FBI article). Please pass this on to everyone in your email address book. It is spreading fast so be prepared should you get this call. Most of us take those summonses for jury duty seriously, but enough people skip out on their civic duty, that a new and ominous kind of fraud has surfaced.

The caller claims to be a jury coordinator. If you protest that you never received a summons for jury duty, the scammer asks you for your Social Security number and date of birth so he or she can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. Give out any of this information and bingo; your identity was just stolen .

The fraud has been reported so far in 11 states, including Oklahoma , Illinois , and Colorado . This (swindle) is particularly insidious because they use intimidation over the phone to try to bully people into giving information by pretending they are with the court system. The FBI and the federal court system have issued nationwide alerts on their web sites, warning consumers about the fraud.

Cell Phone Kiosk Scam

Cell Phone kiosks in malls offer a variety of products and services for many of the national cell phone services. However, not all of these kiosks are actually company owned. Many of them are “authorized resellers” of national product lines. This means that while they can use the trademark names, advertising, and offer the services and products of a nationally known company, they are not a company store.

While company stores often offer discounts and special incentives, resellers do not have to extend the same pricing to their customers. For example, a reseller may offer a phone for several hundred dollars and suggest that this is a great price, with rebates that the customer must file and then wait for payment. The national chain store may offer the same service contract pricing and sell the same phone for several hundred dollars less.

Often, kiosks are operated by high pressure salesmen who make their offers sound very attractive and pressure the consumer to make a decision “now.” They depend on people buying on impulse. Once the customer signs the contract and learns that they have paid more than the company rate, they cannot terminate the contract without paying a high non-refundable penalty.

If you are considering purchasing a product like a cell phone that requires a contract, do your research first. Visit a national dealership/permanent location to view products and you may also want to check on-line to see what products and services are offered and what the prices are. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to read the contract thoroughly and look for penalties. Don’t let anyone push you into making a decision before you have done your homework.

Scams and Fraud Links

Arizona Attorney General Top Ten Scams http://www.azag.gov/consumer/

SC Department of Consumer Affairs
http://www.scconsumer.gov/

US Administration on Aging
http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/AoA_Programs/Elder_Rights/EA_Prevention/index.aspx and/or http://www.aoa.gov/AoA_programs/Elder_Rights/Legal/index.aspx

AoA Funded Stop Senior Scams Project ( Stetson University)
http://elder.law.stetson.edu/solicitors.php
and/or
http://elder.law.stetson.edu/helpful_links.php

Consumer Scam Checklists
http://elder.law.stetson.edu/checklists.php
and/or
http://elder.law.stetson.edu/consumer.php

Senior fraud page
http://www.fraud.org/

National Crime Prevention
http://www.ncpc.org/mcgruff/safer-with-mcgruff/seniors