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.