2002-12-11 / Seniors

Savvy Senior

Telemarketing Fraud
You Ask the Senior Question—We Find The Savvy Answer
Dear Savvy Senior:

I am writing in hopes you'll help make senior citizens aware, and to beware, of all the telemarketing fraud going, on out there. My poor grandmother was recently shammed out of $250 by someone calling and telling her she just won a new washer and dryer but she had to pay taxes and shipping before they could send them. It seems these telemarketers target sweet, innocent, little old ladies and I think it's terrible. Could you give us some information about this huge, ongoing problem and what to watch for?


Fed Up With Phone Fraud

Dear Fed Up,

You're right telemarketing fraud is a huge problem and older Americans are the targets for this new kind of criminal, a criminal who holds you up in your own home, but not with a gun. Their weapon of choice is the telephone.

Here are the unsavvy tele-fraud facts: There are approximately 140,000 telemarketing firms operating in the U.S. today, and it is estimated that up to 10 percent - or 14,000 may be fraudulent. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one out of six consumers is cheated by telemarketing criminals every year. In one case, the FBI found that fraudulent telemarketers were directing nearly 80 percent of their calls to older consumers.

Congress estimates that telemarketing crime costs American consumers more than $40 billion. That's enough to pay for the nursing home care of more tim a million older Americans for an entire year

Many older people preyed upon by dishonest telemarketing companies are well educated, with above-average incomes, and are socially active in their communities. Therefore, the sales pitches these crooked companies use are appropriately sophisticated. Some of the most common criminal scam include: phony prizes, illegal sweepstakes, sham investments, crooked charities, and "recovery rooms" where victims are scammed again by telemarketers with promises that, for a fee, they will help them recover the money they have lost. Beware of these common lines you might hear from a criminal caller:

"You are the guaranteed winner of one of three valuable prizes all you need to do is pay a fee."

"You have won a fantastic prize and all you do is buy our vitamins."

"Donate to charity and win a spectacular vacation."

"Magazines at fantastic, low prices can process you now if you give me your bank account number."

"We'll help you get back money scammed from you, all we need is a small fee to cover the cost."

"Invest in a no-risk investment opportunity of a lifetime...but you need to do it today. I'll send a courier to pick up your money."

Here are some savvy tips to help you combat the criminal caller:

•Beware of anyone who asks you to send money or buy anything sight unseen, unless you are certain you are dealing with a reputable firm.

•Never give out your credit card information over the phone.

•Don't pay for a free prize. Free is free. If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes on the prize, he or she has violated federal law.

•Refuse to be rushed into anything. The more a caller tries to hurry you into buying or sending money, the more likely he or she has criminal intent.

•Offering to send a messenger to pick up your payment is a clear sign of fraudulent activity.

Asking the caller to put the offer in writing rarely offers protection to the consumer. It often leads to credible-looking letters that in the consumer's mind seem to legitimize what in fact is a bad deal.

If you receive a suspicious call or an unsolicited one that sounds like a criminal scam, call your state attorney general or your local consumer protection agency.

For more information about telemarketing fraud, check these savvy Web sites:

•Federal Trade Commission - www.ftc.gov

•National Fraud Information Center - www.fraud.org

•U.S. Department of Justice -www.usdoj.gov/lcriminal./fraud/ltelemarke

This information was provided from AARP. See their Web site at wwwaar,p.org

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or see our Web site at www.savvysenior.org.

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