Friday, December 25, 2009

If it Looks to Good to Be True - It Probably Is

The NYS Attorney General's Office is addressing the increase of criminals who prey on senior citizens (especially women) with a seminar entitled "Scam, Frauds and Consumer Protection."

The most common scams are: advance free loans, prize/sweepstakes, business opportunities, real estate, credit card and stock offers, magazine sales, travel/vacations, work at home schemes, and counterfeit sweepstakes. One of the most obvious ways is a phone call from telemarketers. ( call 888-382-1222) Fraudulent methods are becoming more and more devious as the unsuspecting heartstrings of trusting, older adults are pulled upon.

One scheme called "The Granny Scam" is to call up fairly late at night. If an older woman answers, they begin talking hurriedly into the receiver. "Grandma! Grandma!" Grandma answers, "Sally! Is that you? You don't sound right!" "Yes! I know" answers sneaky Sally "I've been in a car accident and I need money right away!" "What can I do?" "Please wire money to this address..." Grandma is out is $500 or more, depending on what she has lovingly sent to "accident victim" Sally.

Another scam is a phone call from a "Commissioner of Jurors", who informs you of missing your jury duty assignment, even though were not aware your were called to serve - but if you "tell me your social security number" they will take care of your missing name. This scam has happened in 21 states, and the numbers are growing. Never give out your social security number over the telephone.

The role of the Attorney General's Office is to defend and act as an advocate for the consumer. They mediate where a case of consumer fraud is evident, and litigate if more than one person is involved, shutting down a business permanently. Charities who are negligent in how they present themselves are also open to dissolution. For instance, someone emailing from "The Center For Missing Youth" took of advantage of the well known "Center For Missing and Exploited Children" hoping the reader would confuse the two. The first is not a legitimate organization, and were counting on people not knowing the difference. The Attorney General's Office also gets restitution for the consumer who has been duped. The organization or business may be fined, pay a fee and pay for your attorney.

Another role of The Attorney General's Office is to educate. There are sweepstake and lottery scams, particularly taking advantage of older adults. The rule of thumb to go by is that nobody wins a sweepstakes without entering.

Renegade contractors are also a blight on society's older Americans. Never pay upfront for a contract whether it be to replace your roof, vinyl side your home, or put in a new driveway, as well as any other improvements to your home. Also, make sure you receive an itemized list and a contract explaining what the contractor intends to do, how much it will cost for materials, and most importantly, a date of completion. Make sure the contractor has adequate insurance in case he is hurt on the job, and that he has an escrow account for your deposit. Any money you give him should not go into his own personal or business checking account. It is always wise to get more than one estimate.

The most recent scam to hit unsuspecting seniors is The Home Security Scam. Problems arose when people would show up at a homeowner's doorstep saying the security system needed to be updated. The person may look official, wearing the shirt that has the same logo of your security plan. But several weeks later you will get a bill from the company and the company you originally signed with. What has happened is the second company (who is legitimate) has replaced your previous company's wiring - you are legitimately responsible for TWO security company accounts! Always call and find out before letting someone work on your equipment.

Another way to protect yourself is to remove your name from lists sold to banks and other credit agencies. To prevent the credit bureaus from selling your name and information, call 1-888-567-8688. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months. For more information regarding scams or if you have been a victim, contact Benjamin Bruce at the NYS Attorney General's Office (585)546-7430. Don't let the embarrassment of being taken advantage of prohibit you from protecting yourself and others from becoming victims again.

Eileen Loveman is an author, newspaper columnist, comedian, board sitting public servant, teacher, business owner, paralegal, mother to six grownups, three Labradors and one debonair cat. Based in Western New York overlooking Lake Ontario, "Stories From the Lake" chronicles the extraordinary life of everyday people and her equally extraordinary husband. She has held every job imaginable (even selling cemetery plots for one day) and is qualified to do just about everything except open-heart surgery.

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