Imagine you pick up the phone and hear this greeting. Your immediate response might be to say your grandchild’s name: “Karl?” With something as innocent as this, a scammer has tricked you into revealing the name of your relative. Now he impersonates Karl to tell a tale of woe and ask you to wire some money so he can repair his car or pay his hospital bill or get out of jail . . . Concerned and sympathetic, you wire money to the number provided. Only later do you find out that your grandson Karl was never in trouble and the money was deposited into a crook’s account!
Sadly, criminals often view seniors as ideal targets for deception. Seniors are likely to be settled financially, own their own home, and have good credit, all of which can be exploited. Seniors also grew up in a time of manners; they are polite and trusting, unlikely to hang up the phone or say NO to a solicitor. Seniors want to demonstrate to others that they are competent and wise in their financial affairs, so they may be hesitant to report that they have been victimized. Criminals may assume that an elder victim will have trouble recalling details of the fraud, making them a poor witness. Finally, seniors are facing challenges as they age and may be especially susceptible to scams that offer cures, prizes and honors.
Your family members and your Cascade Companion Care caregiver can be good sounding boards for testing out offers that sound “too good to be true”. In addition, here are some tips to protect yourself from fraud, recommended by the FBI and the Washington State Office of the Attorney General:
*Buy a shredder. Use it to dispose of any paperwork with personal information or account details.
*Post a “No Solicitors” notice on your door and make this your policy. Never open your door to an unscheduled visitor.
*Register your phone on the Federal Do Not Call list to block calls from telemarketers. To do this, call 1-888- 382- 1222 or register online at http://www.DONOTCALL.gov.
*Never contribute money as a result of a phone solicitation. Ask the caller to send you printed information so you can make an informed decision. Better yet, use a neutral screening tool to choose the charities you will support, such as Charity Navigator( http://www.charitynavigator.org) or the Washington Secretary of State’s Charity database( http://www.sos.wa.gov/charities/DatabaseSearch.aspx). These tools allow you to compare charities and choose those that are reputable and make the best use of donations.
*Check your mail daily, as soon as possible after it is delivered. If you are unable to do this, it is wise to purchase a locking mailbox. For outgoing mail, use a drop slot rather than putting the flag up on your mailbox.
*If you purchase prescriptions online, only use pharmacies that carry the “Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site” ( VIPPS) certification. If you are offered non-prescription products by mail or phone, always check with your medical provider first.
*Never provide an unknown person or company with personal information, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers. There is no reason a person needs to know that you live alone, either.
*Do not pay for any home services up front. Wait until the job is finished to your satisfaction to make payment.
*When you must make difficult or significant decisions, bring a friend or relative along as a second set of ears. Do not allow yourself to be pressured. You have the right to take all the time you need, to educate yourself, to verify, to compare, and to have agreements put in writing.
*Be on the alert for catchphrases often used by criminals. These include: “You must act now”, “You’ve won a free gift/vacation/prize”, “This is a one-time, no-risk offer”, “Learn the breakthrough that has produced results for these celebrities”, “You do not need to make a purchase to enter the sweepstakes”. The general rule is, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” You should never have to pay or purchase a product to receive a “free” prize.
Finally, if you sense that something is suspicious, check it out. If it turns out to be fraudulent, let your voice be heard by calling the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General’s office. Your vigilance may spare another senior from being victimized!