Scams and Seniors

By: Audrey Miller MSW, RSW, CCRC, CCLCP

“Wachovia (a large bank in the United States) has agreed to pay as much as $144 million to settle a federal probe into its relationship with telemarketers who preyed on senior citizens. As many as half a million elderly and poor may have been involved” says an article posted on the Caregiver’s Home Companion.

In the Wachovia telemarketing case, OCC investigations said that from June 2003 to December 2006, the bank worked with several telemarketers and payment processors that obtained bank-account information over the phone from thousands of elderly and poor consumers by offering to sell them identify-theft certificates, discount travel vouchers and other questionable products or services.

With the account information obtained during the call, the telemarketer or payment processor would create an RCC and deposit the instrument into an account at Wachovia, causing funds to be withdrawn from consumers’ accounts. The OCC said that as many as half of the transactions were disputed and Wachovia’s risk management department was aware of the problem but did not take action to resolve the issue.

The courts do their best to prosecute companies and “scammers” that they are able to catch. But many scam artists get away with their crimes because they go unreported by embarrassed victims or are able to flee before they are located. Cases like the one above don’t only happen in the US. Canadians need to be aware of fraudulent claims and scams so that they can keep from being victimized.

Unfortunately, it is most often seniors who are targeted as victims of a scam. Criminals target seniors because they believe that seniors lonely, lack family support, are old, vulnerable, and may have health-related issues such as Alzheimer’s disease. The RCMP say that seniors are particularly susceptible to telephone fraud because their generation tends to be more trusting and less likely to hang up the telephone on someone who appears to be very friendly.

The best defense we can have against persons who are trying to scam us is to know how to recognize a scam when we see one. The following are some key signs that the information being presented is a scam:

  • It sounds too good to be true
  • You must pay a fee to be eligible to receive your prize.
  • You must give them your private financial information
  • You must pay by cash or a money order
  • The caller is more excited than you are – he or she wants you to get so excited that you won’t be able to think clearly
  • The person calling claims to be a government official, tax officer, banking official, lawyer or some other person in authority. The person calls you by your first name and asks you a lot of personal or lifestyle questions
  • The stranger calling wants to become your best friend
  • It’s a limited opportunity and you’re going to miss out. If you are pressured to make a big purchase decision immediately, it’s probably not a legitimate deal.

Remember, clients always have the right to check out any company by requesting written information, a call back number, references and time to think over the offer. Seniors should always be careful about providing confidential personal information, especially banking or credit card details unless certain the company is legitimate. If in doubt, it’s wise to ask the advice of a close friend or relative, lawyer or even the bank.

In many cases, it is up to the consumer to protect themselves against fraud. If you suspect that you or your loved one may be a target of fraud, don’t be embarrassed – you’re not alone. All frauds/scams should be reported to Phone Busters – a service of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Toll Free: 1-888-495-8501; Email: . While they may not be able to recover your losses, they will help to ensure that others do not fall into the same trap. Their website also lists current scams for you to be aware of:

For more information contact: Audrey R. Miller MSW, RSW, GCM, CCRC, CCLCP, Managing Director, Elder Caring Inc. 1 866 473 8887

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