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Beware of crooks using these scare tactics to defraud elderly

(By Paul Britt, former Rockwall Police officer, current warrant officer in Forney & owner of Britt’s Training Systems) ROCKWALL – The elderly are our greatest treasure. They are what have made this country great after World War II. They stepped up and saved the world. They were hardworking, trusting, giving and self-reliant to an extreme and continue so through today.

The same ideals that have made them great also open them up to fraud, theft and abuse.  An FBI report on elderly fraud, found that senior citizens are targeted more because they have good credit, own their homes and may not know they have been scammed due to issues with their memories. They are trusting, polite and will not say “no,” even when they should.

There are probably a lot more seniors that have had a fraud/theft committed against them then actually reported. The elderly do not really know what to do once they are a victim of fraud. They often do not know to whom to report the fraud to. The elderly are also embarrassed over being defrauded and feel that if they tell, their family will think that they are unable to take care of their own financial decisions. They feel that they should have known better, and that they might be placed into a “home” if they can’t make good decisions.

So what do the crooks do to scam seniors? The criminals go for high pressure scams that force the Senior Citizen to make quick decisions without thinking through the problem or consequences. They often use scare tactics to make their case. This is often seen in the scams that deal with repairs. “You need this roof sealant now, because the rain will get in your house and ruin everything. We are only in the area today!” “Send in your handling fee to get your prize money.” They want the senior to act without thinking about what is wrong with the scenario.

There are several scams that seem to occur year after year with very few changes. The three scams are Repairs, Prize and Sweepstakes and “I need your Help.” Repair scams are usually committed in person as it is a high pressure tactic. The Sweepstakes and “help needed’ are often committed online, but can be committed in person or by phone.

Home Repair scams are top of the list. Since a lot of senior citizens own their homes, they will do anything to protect their investment. They often have money put aside for retirement that they are able to access. Crooks know this and use it to their advantage. Rockwall County had a case of home repair fraud according to Margie VerHagen, Executive Director of Rockwall County Committee on Aging.  A senior citizen in Royse City was told that she needed a sealant on her roof. By the time the scam was reported, she had been defrauded for $65,000. Crooks also use high interest loans to finance repairs as part of their schemes. The loans have such a high interest rate that after a few months, exponentially more is owed in interest than the original cost. It becomes such a large debt that the crooks seek civil suits to take the home and or garnish bank accounts for payment.

How do you avoid losing money in a Repair scam? Do not do business with someone that seeks you out. If you are concerned about the “need” for a repair, seek out a qualified company through the Better Business Bureau. NEVER pay up for any repair up front as that will be the last time you see that person.  Do not be afraid to “hurt” the feelings of the crook. He is there to steal money from you, his feelings are not important. Get your family members involved. You helped your family grow; they want to help you now. Just ask for their opinion. My parents call me and ask my opinion when they think there is something wrong with a “deal.”

Criminals are directing more attention towards the senior citizen with Awards and Sweepstakes scams. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that the people over the age of 70 are becoming more of the target in this type of fraud. One statistic that the FTC reported was that 12,000 senior citizens had filed complaints with the FTC to the tune of $35,000,000 in theft.

How do you recognize this type of scam? The notice often comes in by email, from a free email account. They also require the “winner” to pay some type of fee or percentage to claim their prize. They are also from a company or contest that you do not know and never entered.  They also use high pressure, “save your winnings by acting now,” to make sure the immediacy clouds good judgment.

How do you avoid “Award” fraud? If you did not enter a contest, then you can’t win that contest. You should never have to pay money to a contest to collect winnings. It is best to remember the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” Before you do anything, contact a family member, lawyer or Law Enforcement. They are all there to help you.

The “need help” Scams are those that ask for the senior citizens for their help in some matter. A recent scam states that a “family member” is stuck overseas and they have lost everything and asks for the senior to wire them money to get home. Crooks use the senior’s willingness to trust and be giving to steal money, information and access. This can occur over the internet in “phishing” scams. This is where the senior receives an email that looks to be official asking for personal information to “reset passwords,” help investigate bank fraud or similar stories. What actually occurs is that the crook is given all of the information he needs to clean out bank accounts, open up lines of credit and steal the identity of the senior citizen.

To avoid identity theft, never give your information to someone that you do not know. The bank, IRS, or Police departments will not email you asking for any information. They also will not call you on the phone to solicit information. Do not respond to an email asking for any personal information. If you receive an email that appears to be from your bank, visit the bank or call them. They are usually aware of the fraud and can let you know that it is a fraud. If they call, ask for their name, telephone number, and address and business license numbers. Chances are they will hang up, but if they give that information, check with the Better Business Bureau to see if they are a legitimate business. Once again, ask for your family’s advice.

If you have been a victim of a fraud, contact the Rockwall or Royse City Police Departments or Rockwall County Sheriff’s Office. For more information on any issues with senior citizens, please contact the Rockwall County Committee on Aging.

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