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Ask Bob - Seniors need to be aware of scams

November 27, 2008|By BOB POOR

Q: My mom is living alone. She is hale and hearty, but I really worry about her falling victim to senior citizen fraud. How can she protect herself?

A: According to the FBI (which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year), the threat to seniors is growing - and changing. If you type "Senior Citizen Fraud" into a Google search, you will find a plethora of helpful information on the computer.

The FBI Web site outlines some of the common scams to be on the lookout for - identity theft, health insurance, home repair, foreign lottery/sweepstakes, advance fee/credit cards, investments and charity schemes. A trip to www.fbi.gov gives access to some good information on how to avoid falling victim to the above scams.

A few basic tips to avoid being victimized include:

o Shred credit card receipts and old bank statements.

o Close unused credit card or bank accounts.

o Don't give out personal information over the phone, mail or Internet unless you initiate the contact.

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o Never respond to an offer you don't understand.

o Talk over investments with a trusted friend, family member or financial adviser.

o Require all plans and purchases to be in writing.

o Don't pay in advance for services.

The site goes on to explain why the elderly are such an attractive target for con artists. Many seniors have a "nest egg," and they are less likely to report a fraud because they don't know where to go or they are embarrassed to talk about it. If they do report the crime, it is sometimes hard for them to remember the exact details. Many of the products/services being hawked by con artists appeal to individuals of a certain age, i.e., anti-aging and other health care products, health care services and investments related to retirement savings.

Other trends: Criminals targeting the elderly are increasingly located outside the U.S., making it difficult for American law enforcement to track them down. Also, many younger baby boomers have considerable computer skills, so criminals are modifying their targeting techniques - using not only traditional telephone calls and mass mailings, but also online scams like phishing and e-mail spamming.

Who to call? The FBI suggests that if you are a senior citizen who has been victimized, start by calling your local or state law enforcement agency. The FBI doesn't handle isolated individual cases. They get involved only when there are huge losses or there is evidence of an international crime ring at work.

Hagerstown resident Robert A. "Bob" Poor is a member of the Society of Senior Advisers and provides senior professional services for reverse mortgages and personal insurance. He also is a member of the Senior Referral Center of Hagerstown. Questions are welcomed at r.poor@myactv.net or by mail c/o The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD 21741, ATTN: Robert A. Poor column.

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