Just as savvy seniors are often on the lookout for people or places that might put them in harm's way, they also need to be equally diligent when it comes to con artists and scammers, the most common threats to their well-being.
According to a 2004 survey by the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 25 million Americans (11.2 percent of the adult population) experience consumer fraud each year. Scammers and con artists develop new or evolving scams that target seniors, making them a vulnerable population.
During National Consumer Protection Week and throughout the year the National Crime Prevention Council urges seniors to take these common-sense precautions to avoid becoming a victim:
Be alert and astute.
Do not give any personal information over the phone or Internet to an unfamiliar company or caller. This includes your credit card numbers and their expiration dates, your Social Security number, driver's license number, bank account numbers, and personal information, such as your mother's maiden name.
Even if you are told it is only for identification or verification purposes, this information can be used for unauthorized credit card charges or bank account debits.
Use direct deposit for incoming payments.
Your mail both incoming and outgoing can be vulnerable, especially during tax season when your mailbox is fair game for theft of sensitive financial information. If your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check or other payment is delivered by mail to an unlocked box, you also may be at risk for theft.
Direct deposit eliminates the risk of lost or stolen checks, reduces fraud and gives people faster access to their money on payment day. Direct deposit also protects against identity theft. For more information about enrolling in direct deposit of your Social Security or SSI payment, call the Go Direct toll-free helpline at (800) 333-1795 or sign up online.
It's not rude, it's shrewd.
A reputable company will put the offers in writing. Ask for written information to be mailed to you and review it carefully.
Con artists often use official-looking forms and language and bold graphics to deceive their victims. Check the company's record with the Better Business Bureau before you make a decision. If you receive items in the mail that you didn't order, you are under no obligation to pay for them.
Also, be wary of emails promising free vacations, quick cures for health concerns, foreign lotteries, work-at-home offers, get-rich-quick investments, or requests for donations to charities you never heard of. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Know your rights.
Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry to stop telemarketing calls.
If someone rips you off, report the scam or con to local law enforcement, your city or state consumer protection office, or a consumer advocacy group. Don't be embarrassed. Report con artists so they can't take advantage of anyone else!
About the National Crime Prevention Council
The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) is a private, nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to enable people to create safer and more caring communities by addressing the causes of crime and violence and reducing the opportunities for crime to occur.
NCPC manages public service advertising under the National Citizens' Crime Prevention Campaign-symbolized by McGruff the Crime Dog® and his Take A Bite Out Of Crime slogan-and acts as secretariat for the Crime Prevention Coalition of America, a nonpartisan group of more than 360 national, federal, state, and local organizations committed to preventing crime.
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