There is a ring at the front door and you answer.
A kind-hearted gentleman informs you that he has just
fixed your neighbor’s roof and he has a lot of material
left over. He tells you that your roof is in bad
shape and there is a bad storm brewing. He says that
your house could get damaged and cost you thousands if
you don’t act now. In fact, he will give you a
special rate if you pay up front in cash. You
don’t want to have a leaky roof and you can’t pass up
such a great deal. You agree to have your roof
fixed and hand over a large sum of money on the spot.
You later find out that nothing is wrong with your roof
and you have just been swindled out of thousands of
If this scenario sounds all too familiar, you may
be one of the 25 million Americans that were victims
of fraud last year, according to the Federal Trade
Seniors are one of the top
targets for a wide variety of scams. In fact,
seniors make up 11 percent of the U.S. population,
but constitute 30 percent of consumer fraud and 50
percent of all phone scam victims.
Why are seniors so heavily targeted by scam
artists? Many seniors grew up in a time when
business was based on a handshake and trust.
According to a study done by the American
Association of Retired Persons (AARP), older people
are quicker to believe promises and slower to take
action to protect legal rights. Plus, many
seniors live alone and are susceptible to “friendly”
callers, whoever they may be. Add this to the
fact that older people own more than half of all
financial assets in the U.S. and it becomes clear
why scam artists aim at seniors.
While telemarketers call people of all ages,
backgrounds and incomes, they often make up to 80
percent of their calls to older consumers (according
to the AARP). These telemarketers often prey upon
older people who are well educated, have
above-average incomes and are socially active in
their community. Their sales pitches are
sophisticated and include phony prizes, illegitimate
sweepstakes, fake charities, and bogus investments.
STEPS TO TAKE:
Never send money or give out personal information
such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers,
dates of birth, or Social Security numbers to
unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
If you have doubts about a telemarketer’s
legitimacy, be sure to ask for their company’s name
and address, along with a phone number where they
can be reached at a later time.
For elderly widows, if a caller asks for the man
of the house, be sure not to say that there isn’t
one or indicate that you live alone.
Talk to family and friends or call your lawyer,
accountant or banker and get their advice before you
make any large purchase or investment over the phone
with a stranger.
Check out unfamiliar companies with your local
consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau,
the National Fraud Information Center, or other
Be sure to sign up for the Federal Trade
Telemarketers who continue to call you after you
have registered are subject to penalties. You
can sign up at www.donotcall.gov or at (888)
Don’t forget the power to simply hang up the
phone when a stranger calls trying to sell you
something you don’t want!
HOME IMPROVEMENT FRAUD
Home improvement contractors use several methods
of targeting seniors: high pressure phone calls,
flyers, advertisements, and door-to-door-sales.
Fraudulent contractors can be very effective in
making people think their services are needed, and
then defrauding their victims.
STEPS TO TAKE:
Use a local well-established contractor.
Ask for references and check them.
Get competitive bids on all work and be wary of
any bids that seem too good to be true. Don’t
accept high-pressure offers or offers that force you
to make a quick decision.
Determine exactly what work you want done.
Make sure the project is explicitly described in
your contract, including materials and labor
specifics and dates for estimated start and
Never say yes to someone who wants money up front
before the job is done or wants you to withdraw a
large amount of money from your bank.
Check to see that the work is complete and done
correctly before paying.
Find out when and how payment and/or billing will
take place before the work begins.
Seniors are frequent victims of door-to-door
scams and high-pressure sales tactics. While some
door-to-door salespeople are honest, the chances are
likely that whoever answers the door is about to be
swindled. Con-artists often try to coax
seniors into buying unnecessary products or services
ranging from living trusts to encyclopedias to
household cleaning supplies. They usually
appear friendly and appear sincere in their desire
to help. In fact, they are successful because
they seem so honest.
STEPS TO TAKE:
Never allow anyone you don’t know into your home.
It is easier to close the door on them before they
get in than to get them out once they are inside.
Don’t buy on impulse. Tell the salesperson
you will get back in touch after you have had a
chance to carefully read all the materials given to
Ask to see the salesperson’s credentials and
identification and request their business card.
Many communities require door-to-door salespersons
to have a permit.
Never give cash up front to a salesperson or rely
on verbal promises for delivered goods.
If you sign a contract, make sure that it is
complete, signed and dated. Get all terms in
writing, including the total price, warranties,
return policy, and all conditions of sale.
Know that you can get out of a door-to-door sales
contract within three business days. According
to the FTC’s Cooling Off Rule, you have the right to
cancel your contract for a full refund until
midnight of the third business day after the sale,
provided that you have a signed contract and the
sale was over $25. You don’t have to have any
reason to cancel.
Fraud Assistance Resources
Federal Trade Commission – www.ftc.gov or
877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) – The FTC enforces federal
consumer protection laws that prevent fraud,
deception and unfair business practices.
Whether combating telemarketing fraud, Internet
scams or price-fixing schemes, the FTC’s primary
mission is to protect consumers.
Better Business Bureau – www.bbb.org – The BBB’s
mission is to promote and foster the highest ethical
relationship between businesses and the public
through voluntary self-regulation, consumer and
business education, and service excellence.
You can find your local office on the BBB’s Web
The National Fraud Information Center–
www.fraud.org or (800) 876-7060 – The NFIC is a
project of the National Consumers League and was
designed to help people learn about fraud and file
American Association of Retired Persons -
www.aarp.org – AARP provides seniors with
information on financial planning, using home
equity, avoiding fraud, and consumer rights.
Allen is a Director of First
Light Home Care which provides quality, affordable,
non-medical in-home care for seniors, mothers just
home from the hospital, those recovering from
surgery and other clients with need for
companionship and/or personal care. Allen was an
invited delegate to the White House Council on Aging
in 2005 (held every ten years).
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