Research tells us that scams targeting older adults are becoming increasingly prevalent, and can have devastating effects on the finances of seniors and their families. I’ve spoken to researchers at NC State who focus on this issue to get information you can use to help you protect yourself and your loved ones. Public awareness is a crucial part of preventing consumer fraud.
Let’s be clear about what we’re talking about here: elder consumer fraud consists of financial, medical and/or service exploitation, with the prevalence heavily tied to aspects of elder abuse. It includes, but is not limited to: telemarketing fraud; prescription fraud; debt collection and identity theft; Internet promotion and purchases; car and home repairs.
Here is a list of tips on how to protect yourself from consumer frauds and scams. If you are not a senior, but have loved ones who are, take an active role in talking with them about these issues – and let them know what they can do to help protect themselves.
- Never share your Social Security Number, bank account or credit card information with someone you don’t know who calls you or emails you.
- Sign up for the Do Not Call Register 1-888-382-1222 or https://www.donotcall.gov/
- Walk away from anyone who tells you that you must make a decision right now.
- Don’t sign any contract or other paperwork until you’ve had a chance to read and understand it.
- Never pay money upfront to get a loan or win a lottery or sweepstakes.
- Don’t respond to letters or emails that ask you to transfer money into your bank account or wire money out of the country.
- Don’t cash checks you get in the mail along with a letter or call that tells you you’ve won an unexpected prize. The checks are most likely fake.
- Learn what crimes occur frequently in your community so that you can use protective measures.
- Check out a company with your state attorney general’s consumer protection division, before doing business with them. In North Carolina, you can reach the consumer protection division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
The North Carolina Department of Justice has launched a website that provides educational information on consumer protection in the state. It has also created a Victim Services Center to answer questions about laws protecting older adults. More information available here.
Note: I’m writing about this after talking to Drs. Monica Leach and Jodi Hall, researchers and faculty in NC State’s Department of Social Work. They are co-authors of a chapter on consumer fraud and older adults in the forthcoming 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia of Health Promotion and Prevention, which is due out in 2012. This is a huge issue, folks. Being aware and involved is an important part of prevention.