published Friday, July 6th, 2012

BizBulletin: Watch out for calls from senior scammers

Jim Winsett

Q: I am a retired senior citizen, and it looks like scammers think we have nothing better to do but field their calls all the time! I have a friend who fell for a scam, and lost $25,000 of her savings. Is there a way to protect ourselves from scammers, and even stop the calls?

A: Seniors are a favorite target group for scammers. Seniors overall tend to have more stable finances, own their homes and are a very trusting group. The best way to prevent a scam from happening is educating yourself about them, sharing that information with your family and friends to warn them, and not being afraid to say "No."

BBB lists five of the most common senior scams, and tips to reduce the chances of becoming a victim.

1) Grandparent Scam. There are varying details, but your "grandchild" calls with a story about a horrible incident that happened to them (outside the country), and needs you to send money via Western Union to help him/her now. Also, they plead that you avoid telling mom and dad about the issue in order not to "worry" them. You would do anything to help your grandchild, and in the panic you hurry to your closest Western Union. In time, you soon realize your real grandchild was safe all along, and you lost the money you sent.

2) Foreign Lotteries. You receive a call or email advising that you have won a large amount of money in the Canadian or other foreign lottery, but have to send money upfront to pay taxes and fees. Such lotteries are illegal. Sometimes you may be sent a check as partial payment, but the check will be a forgery.

3) Telemarketing Schemes. You receive a call offering a great deal on a product but have to act now to get the benefit. The caller asks for personal and financial information that will then be used to take money out of your bank account or run up charges on your credit card.

4) Phony Charities. You receive a phone call or personal visit from someone soliciting money for what sounds like a legitimate charity, but is really a scam. Often they appear to be associated with the police or fire departments. Be wary.

5) Investment or Healthcare Scams. You receive a call, letter, or e-mail offering above-market returns on investments or great savings on medical care. The solicitor is often reluctant to provide details about the company, such as the address, phone number or written documentation.

BBB recommends the following to protect yourself:

• Register your phone number with the National Do-Not-Call registry at 1-888-382-1222 or www.donotcall.gov.

• Do not give personal or financial information to an unknown caller, and do not provide such information for unsolicited e-mail/Internet messages.

• Check the BBB before dealing with any company or charity that you are not familiar with. Also check with family members, neighbors or friends.

• Do not yield to high-pressure or emotional sales tactics. Read contracts thoroughly and seek advice from a relative or other advisor if you do not understand it.

• Never pay money to win a prize or enter a sweepstakes, even if you are sent a check and told to make the payment from that check.

• Keep careful records of your transactions such as bank or credit card statements. Check them for accuracy and shred documents thoroughly before throwing them away. Thieves can steal a person's identity from their trash; be aware of destroying personal documents.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

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