Scammers target elderly during Christmas season

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NASHVILLE - One sign the holiday season is here is the jingling of home phones.

It's also the time of the year when scammers prey on older Tennesseans. Alan Marx, a consumer protection attorney, says last year thousands across the state fell victim to scams during this time of the year.

"More than 25,500 older Americans reported sending $110 million to scammers posing as family members."

According to the Better Business Bureau of Nashville, more than 26,000 Tennesseans reported consumer fraud with losses totaling more than $24 million last year.

The Federal Trade Commission says fraud is up 19 percent over 2010 and more than 800 percent since 2000. Consumers reported losing more than $1.5 billion to scams. Marx says the economy may be struggling, but the fraud business is booming.

The best way to protect yourself is to be skeptical, but he says that for older individuals that's hard to do.

"People who are a bit older grew up in a time when it was considered rude or impolite to just refuse to answer the door or answer the phone, or hang up on somebody."

Marx says adult children and caregivers play an important role in helping older people avoid scams. Often, seniors are lonely and appreciate having someone to talk with. Unfortunately, scammers know this and use it to prey on them.

If you've been a victim of fraud or are concerned about a solicitation, there are places to turn for assistance. Marx says the Better Business Bureau is a great source for information, as is the Federal Trade Commission. And there's one resource he says many overlook.

"Interestingly, the U.S. Postal Service: there's a group that doesn't get a lot of publicity, but there are postal enforcement agents. They bring actions pretty aggressively, kind of like the FBI, but focusing on mail fraud."

Marx says the best protection is to sit down and talk to older relatives or friends. Remind them not to give out personal or financial information to strangers, no matter how friendly or persistent the caller is. Even if someone claims to represent a well-known charity, your loved one should hang up the phone.

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Christmas, Holidays, Scams, Tennessee, TNNS
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Members Opinions:
December 11, 2012 at 6:27pm
It’s very unfortunate that scammers target the elderly. They make for easy targets because of a few reasons. The elderly love to receive and read mail, and they are also vulnerable to believing anything they read in the mail.

The article mentions $110 million is lost to scammers poising as family members. Netizens have long heard about email scams from Nigeria about winning a large sum of money. A case I’m familiar with involves a woman who thinks she has won the lottery and sends off $10, $50 and $100 checks off to Finland or Sweden.

The elderly could unknowingly be supporting extremely horrible things. Many of the scammers located out of the country could potentially be involved in drug/slave traffickers or rebel groups that may be labeled as terrorists by Unite States agencies. This of course shows a much more negative side than elderly simply spending away their retirement or social security.

The article suggests sitting down and talking with older relatives, which may not always help. After all, the elderly grew up using old-fashioned mailed letters, what could you know? Another solution I hate to propose, though it worked in the case I mentioned before, could be attempting to obtain power-of-attorney from your parents (or your parents getting it from your grandparents) to monitor their banking.
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