A June 2010 survey conducted by Investor Protection Trust estimated that 7.3 million older Americans — 1 out of every 5 citizens over age 65 — have been victims of financial scams.
In many instances, seniors have lost their entire nest eggs and homes. They become hesitant to report the crime due to embarrassment and fear they will lose control over their finances. The BBB encourages seniors and their families to keep lines of communication open regarding finances and to be aware of common scams.
The most common scams that target senior citizens are foreign lotteries, home repair and improvement scams, telemarketing schemes, phishing, phony charities and investment or health-care scams.
Seniors are targeted and vulnerable to scams because they are more likely to be at home to open the door or answer the telephone, tend to be more trusting, may be physically incapable of making their own home repairs and may own their homes free and clear, making them a target of predatory lenders.
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The BBB suggests these tips for seniors to protect themselves from fraud:
* Register phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry at 1-888-382-1222 or www.donotcall.gov.
* Don't do business with someone who just shows up at your door.
* Don't give personal or financial information to an unknown caller, and don't provide such information for unsolicited e-mail or Internet messages.
* Check with the BBB before dealing with any company or charity one is not familiar with. Also check with family members, neighbors or friends.
* If a contractor or repairman is needed for hire, ask the BBB for a list of members in that business. Make sure the contractor is properly licensed.
* Don't succumb to high-pressure sales tactics. Read contracts thoroughly and seek advice from a relative or other adviser.
* Never pay money to win a prize or enter a sweepstakes.
* Never pay the entire cost of a repair job upfront. Try not to pay more than a third.
* Keep careful records of bank transactions and 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.
* Have Social Security or pension benefit checks direct deposited to reduce the possibility of identity theft. Be careful not to leave outgoing bill payments in an unsecured mailbox. Take them to the post office.
If seniors feel they have become victims of fraud, the BBB suggests they immediately call their banking institutions and credit card companies to report the suspicious activity. Place a "fraud alert" on credit reports, and review the reports carefully. Report any deceptive services to the BBB, local law enforcement and the state attorney general.
The BBB also recommends that seniors find professionals they can trust by checking out BBB's directory of accredited businesses. To check out a company before doing business, visit: www.kansasplains.bbb.org or call 1-800-856-2417.
The BBB has had an increase in calls regarding public and private grant scams. Always research a company whenever paying for information or services relating to grant assistance.
Roberta Namee and Mary Ann Redeker-Perez work for the Better Business Bureau in Wichita.
If you have questions or concerns about a company, contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or www.kansasplains.bbb.org.