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5 ways seniors can avoid scammers

Florida leads nation in reported fraud per capita

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Financial scams targeting seniors are prevalent and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation says with more than 4.9 million people ages 60 and older, Florida ranks first in the nation in the percentage of its citizens who are seniors.

"Unfortunately, wealth is one of the reasons scammers target unsuspecting senior citizens," Florida Office of Financial Regulation officials said.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) states that "Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they're now considered 'the crime of the 21st century.' Why? Because seniors are thought to have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts."

NCOA also stated that it is not just wealthy seniors who are targeted.

"Low-income older adults are also at risk of financial abuse," NCOA officials said. "And it's not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes. Over 90 percent of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person's own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others."

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Florida is the state with the highest per capita rate of reported fraud in the country.

Related link: FTC Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book

The Call Christina team helps you fight back by alerting you to the latest scams and helping you identify the red flags of a con.

Here are five tips on how to protect yourself:

  • Guard your personal information. Never give someone who calls you out of the blue your credit card, banking, social or Medicare number.

  • Be Skeptical. This is especially true when dealing with unsolicited offers. "If you receive an unsolicited offer, there's a good chance that you've been targeted by a scam artist," the AARP explains on its website. "Most scams of this nature rely on your response to their initial promise of lottery winnings, fast-case from an easy work-at-home job, guaranteed returns from a hot new investment or an inheritance you didn't know about, so that they can gain access to your personal information and solicit money from you.

  • Monitor Accounts: Routinely check your credit report and bank statements to spot suspicious activity.

  • Do not be courteous. Con artists can exploit your good manners. According to the FBI, "People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say 'no' or just hang up the telephone."  So, don't believe that telemarketer on the phone is your friend, don't trust the stranger at the door and do tell someone pitching you a product or service to submit their offer in writing and then consult with a family member or friend before giving anyone your money. According to South Carolina's Attorney General's Office, "Senior citizens are of the generation that was taught to be courteous at all times to phone callers, as well as to people who visit them at home. Swindlers know how to take control of the conversation, either by pretending to be very friendly or by using bullying tactics. Remember that a stranger who calls and asks for your money is to be regarded with the utmost caution. You are under absolutely no obligation to stay on the telephone with a stranger who wants your money. In these circumstances, it is not impolite to explain that you are not interested and hang up the phone. Save your good manners for friends and family members, not swindlers."

  • Be Social – Be part of the Call Christina community: The best thing you can do with consumer protection information is share it with other seniors in your life. Experts say being social is a great way to avoid falling victim to a scam in part because you are sharing what you have learned and because you have a group of people to bounce ideas off of. Spread the word of fraud prevention.

  • Experts say you also want to be wary of high-pressure sales tactics to include "limited time only" offers. If the product or service is legitimate it will still be there tomorrow.

    Related links:
    Call Christina warns of work-from-home job scams

    Call Christina on credit reports

    How senior citizens can avoid investment fraud and abuse

    Learn the tricks scammers use to steal your money

    National Council on Aging: 22 Senior Scams You Must Know and Avoid

    REPORT FRAUD:

    Call Christina: How to File a Complaint

    If you are a victim of fraud or to report suspicious activity, please file a complaint with the OFR online,www.flofr.com, or call (850) 487-9687.

    AARP Foundation Elder Watch: Foundation@aarp.com

    To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government sponsored national resource line, at: 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website at www.eldercare.gov.

    Click here to file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General's Office.

    According to OFR, the financial scams that typically target seniors are:

    • Telemarketing Scams -- The scammer poses as a telemarketing company either collecting money for a phony charity or selling a fake product. They ask for credit card information or bank account information. However, no products or receipts materialize and the scammer makes off with your money.

    • Lottery Scams -- The scammer informs the victim that they have won the lottery or sweepstakes and need to pay a fee in order to receive the prize money. However, there is no lottery money and the fee payment is pocketed by the scammer.

    • Investment Schemes -- The scammer offers an investment product with unrealistically high rates of return, a financial product so complex that it is difficult to understand, or an investment that is only available for an extremely limited time. Often, they will employ high-pressure sales tactics to persuade the victim to invest. Unfortunately, the investment is not real and the scammer instead uses the money for their own purposes.

    • Grandparent Scams -- The scammer calls pretending to be a grandchild and asks for money to solve some unexpected problem or issue. Often, they say that they don't want to get into trouble with their parents. The scammer will ask the victim to wire money or load money onto a prepaid debit card. By the time the grandparent learns that their real grandchild didn't make the call, the scammer is long gone with their money.

    Related link: National Council on Aging Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors.

    Here are a few tips provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):

    • Before offering your help to someone who claims to be a grandchild (or other relative/friend), be sure to telephone your family to verify that the emergency or urgent request is genuine.

    • Beware of a caller who insists on secrecy. Never allow anyone to discourage you from seeking information, verification, support and counsel from family members, friends or trusted advisers prior to making any financial transaction.

    • Take the following precautions to make sure your charitable donations benefit the people and organizations you want to help. If a caller claims to be from an established organization such as a hospital, charity, or law enforcement agency, look up the number of the organization independently and verify the claim before sending money.

    • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.

    • Then, call the charity directly. Ask if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization's development staff should be able to help you.

    • If you have received a letter from the IRS stating that you owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 for information.

    • The IRS will neither call to demand immediate payment, nor call without first mailing a bill. And, the IRS does not require you to use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card nor will they threaten you with arrest for not paying.