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Beware of telemarketers, Pa. attorneys caution

March 29, 2001|By DON AINES

Beware of telemarketers, Pa. attorneys caution



CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Beware of Canadians bearing gifts was the warning Thursday from Assistant Attorney General David Sumner to Franklin County senior citizens.

Victims have received calls from telemarketers or people purporting to be Canadian attorneys informing them they have won a lottery or have been willed money by a Canadian relative, according to Sumner, who works in the state's Bureau of Consumer Protection. They are asked to send money to the caller to settle taxes or pay for a processing fee, he said.

"This surprised me because how many senior citizens are playing the lottery in Canada, or have relatives in Canada they don't know about?" Sumner told a group of about 100 senior citizens at the Franklin County Administration Annex. Sumner and local attorneys were there for a seminar on legal issues affecting seniors sponsored by the Franklin County Bar Association.

Telemarketing scams, particularly across international borders, are difficult to prosecute, Sumner said. The problem is further complicated because in Canada cellular phones can be purchased like a prepaid telephone card, he said. Sumner said anyone can anonymously buy a cell phone that provides a prepaid amount of service to the buyer.

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"Just use your years of judgment and common sense" when evaluating an offer, he told the audience. When an offer is "too good to be true," Sumner said people should ask for information in writing, talk with an attorney, or call the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office before writing a check.

Senior citizens are 12 percent of the population nationwide, but comprise about 35 percent of fraud victims, Sumner said. According to the 1990 census, 15.5 percent of Pennsylvanians are 65 or older, second only to Florida. In 1990, 14.5 percent of county residents were 65 or older.

Sumner said his office has encouraged banks to be aware of large or unusual withdrawals by senior citizens and the Attorney General's Office has a health care unit to examine complaints in that area. He cited a health-care plan that covered liver transplant operations, but left finding and delivering the liver up to the patient.

The U.S. Census Bureau has yet to release demographic information on the aging American population, but Franklin County is graying along with the rest of the country, according to County Area Agency on Aging Director Lynn Clinton. She said about one in five of the county's 131,000 residents is 60 or older.

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