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Criminals target senior citizens with scams
By Ashley Crawford
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Today's senior citizens face many obstacles when trying to enjoy their hard-earned money, but consumer knowledge may ensure a happy retirement.
"Senior citizens are vulnerable to scams for several reasons," said Jan Lukens, consumer management specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "Home-bound senior citizens are less likely to be suspicious of offers, especially if the person is cordial. In addition, they may not be familiar with new scams targeting today's consumers. Criminals target senior citizens because they have good credit ratings and accumulated resources."
U.S. Congress estimates telemarketing scams cost American consumers more than $40 billion each year. The FBI found that fraudulent telemarketers direct nearly 80 percent of their phone calls at older consumers.
"Senior citizens are accessible during the day and therefore are good prey for someone operating a scam," Lukens said. "They need to be aware of the potential scams to hold on to their hard-earned money."
Telemarketing frauds may include prizes, sweepstakes, vacation offers, investments and charitable donations.
"It is impossible to tell over the phone if an offer is legitimate," Lukens said. "The best bet is to just hang up."
Lukens suggested family members play the role of a telemarketer and help their older loved ones learn how to get off the phone as quickly as possible. Senior citizens should seek advice from family and friends concerning an offer or check the legitimacy of a business or organization through the Better Business Bureau before making any commitments.
Identity theft, a relatively new type of scam, allows criminals to impersonate their victims and spend as much money as they can in a short amount of time using a variety of methods.
"Criminals may steal credit card numbers, driver's license numbers, Social Security numbers, bank cards or telephone calling cards to gain the information necessary to acquire a new identity," Lukens said. "This type of scam is frightening because it may be difficult to prove. Therefore, never give out personal information on the phone unless you initiated the call."
Many frauds involve scare tactics and sales pressures. Lukens said to be skeptical no matter the situation and remember the cliche, "If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
If a consumer feels he or she has become a victim of fraud, contact the Attorney General's office and the Better Business Bureau. For information concerning businesses and charities, visit the Better Business Bureau website at www.bbb.org.