Last month, the Boston Globe exposed the devastation left behind when fraudulent telemarketers prey on the elderly. The CanWest News Service reported on June 16th that a man was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for conning low-income citizens and welfare recipients out of $30 million. And finally, The Washington Post reported on June 18th that Social Security numbers of 84,000 welfare recipients in Ohio may have found their way into the wrong hands. Are the poor and elderly really at a higher risk among con artists?
Yes, they are more likely to be targeted, but everyone is at risk. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that the elderly are more likely to trust savvy telemarketers and that those with faulty memories are especially likely to be targeted. Richard Guthrie, a 92-year old man who lost about $100,000, said simply: "Since my wife passed away, I don't have many people to talk with. I didn't even know they were stealing from me, until everything was gone." Seniors are also more likely to be well-established with a home and good credit.
Those with poor credit likely have less of a disposable income and are more likely to jump at the chance of a too-good-to-be-true sweepstakes scam. Companies that peddle your information (yes, there are entire companies that package your name and phone numbers in large lists and sell it) don’t usually know your income bracket. So while you may be more of a target than another, you have the same chance to either be scammed or, hopefully, stop a fraud before it victimizes you.
I almost got duped this year in my college dorm room. A girl knocked on the door, mumbled out something about helping her fund a trip to Paris and shoved a list of magazines onto my lap. She looked normal enough, and I let her keep talking because of that faulty first impression. The red flags went up when she changed her story (why was she going to Paris, again?) and showed me a phony-looking photocopied badge. The jig was up when she pulled out a pen and asked, “What’s your credit card number?” before I’d even agreed to buy a magazine subscription. (Newsweek wasn’t on the list, anyway.) After she left, I asked my neighbors if they’d been solicited. They hadn’t been, and I quickly realized that she targeted me among other girls because I was alone at the time.
One of the first things you should be aware of, whether dealing with a telemarketing call or a door-to-door solicitation, is that the seller needs to identity herself. You’re not obligated to listen, let alone give out any personal information. Also, if you’re being sold something, make sure you read the fine print. In the case of the magazine subscription scam, you may be legally bound to pay for years because of fine print in a contract. Or your credit card information might be used to steal your identity and lots of money.
And in a final send-off to the wonder years, don’t trust anyone you don’t know. The FBI recognizes the culture of our past: “Individuals who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. The con-man will exploit these traits knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say ‘no’ or just hang up the phone.” That’s giving the rest of us too much credit. We continue to be bombarded by newer, more sophisticated scams that are hard to sniff out and easy to fall for. But when it comes to money matters, it pays to be cynical. Read up more on NCPC’s online publication, Seniors and Telemarketing Fraud 101. You’ll learn more on how to identify and deal with con artists. Check it out even if you aren’t a senior—scammers don’t discriminate.