Seniors Learn How Not to Get Scammed
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 25, 2015)
Over thirty seniors and some other guests enjoyed a lively yet informative presentation from Don Ferguson of the Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Office about how to avoid scams.
According to the Attorney General’s data, 30% of senior citizens fall victim to some kind of a scam. Each year their office receives an average of over 14,000 complaints about scams or scam attempts, and the average annual debt forgiveness on scams and frauds is $1.7 million.
Knowing what the scams are, and sharing that information with friends and loved ones, can help people avoid the traps.
The first topic Ferguson covered was that of charitable giving. He stated that there were no laws barring people from asking for money, regardless if they are a registered nonprofit or not. That makes the responsibility fall on the public to research who they are giving their money to.
One way to check on a charity’s legitimacy is to go to www.michigan.gov/AGcharities. This resource lets users find specific info on the group, particularly the percentage of money that is used for the cause compared to how much is used for the fundraising. Some organizations give as little as .1% of the money to what they claim they are supporting, instead using the donations to fund administrative salaries and fundraising activities.
Ferguson said that as a general rule of thumb, 80% or better means that the charity is efficiently using the money it collects.
He noted that if someone is soliciting for a charity they are required by law to tell you what percent actually goes to the cause. He also cautioned that many charities have names that sound alike, and many businesses have names that sound like charities. One way to avoid being pressured to giving over the phone or in person is to say you will give to the charity directly, this gives people time to do research and possibly to eliminate the middleman, ensuring that the charity receives more of the donation.
With an emergency call scam, someone will call pretending to be a grandchild in trouble. They may claim to be in jail, or needing medical care, or stuck somewhere while traveling. Often they will be general and fish for information, saying things like “Hey grandpa, it’s me,” or “It’s your favorite grandson,” leaving the person on the other end to guess. “Johnny is this you?” the victim may say, giving the scam artist the information they need. They may also ask the victim not to tell anyone because they are embarrassed or mom or dad will be mad.
“Slow down,” advised Ferguson. Tell the person you will call them back, and then verify the situation either by calling the grandchild in question or the grandchild’s parent on a known number. You can also ask them to call back, giving you time to figure out what is going on. “Regardless of the situation, do not send money,” he said. “Whatever problem they are in, there are solutions besides sending cash to a stranger. Once you send money like that you’re not getting it back.”
Phising is what scam artists do to try and get people to reveal personal information. Ferguson cautioned people against giving out social security numbers, account numbers, date of birth and bank routing numbers. Once they have these things, scam artists can access bank accounts or start credit accounts with the info. He said that people should not sign their name in public places like the sign in sheet of a doctors’ office but instead should print their names. And on the back of credit cards they should write “see ID” instead of their signature.
Phishing can occur over the phone, online or in person. Scammers may come to the door claiming to be from a utility or credit card company, or a government agency like the IRS. They may also call on the phone saying they are from a company and need to verify your information. They may even have some information on file already. And there are several ways people can phish for information online. One example is if you get an email or a pop up box asking you to input any of your personal data, it could be a scam.
Advance Fee Fraud
One way people get taken advantage of is by companies that offer to sell a loan or a credit card, but require a fee upfront to process or secure it. Ferguson said that advanced fees are illegal in Michigan, but that their office continues to get reports of them.
Some other things Ferguson cautioned against are:
-Work at Home programs
-Any scam where someone sends a check and asks for part of the funds back
-Programs where you pay a small amount for an item to be shipped and then end up enrolled in an ongoing program that can be hard to cancel.
-Fraud recovery scams. This happens when one person is taken advantage of my a scam artists, and that scam artist comes back with another plot to help them recover their losses.
-Fine print nearly anywhere. The example he gave was when staying at a hotel and he found in the fine print that unless he waived it, he was agreeing to a purchase of USA Today at a cost of 75cents per day.
Examples from the Audience
Many in the audience reported having been approached by people they knew were scammers, and a couple even admitted to having been fooled. One example was a woman who had signed up for a free sample of wrinkle cream. The cream was free but she provided her debit card to pay for shipping and handling. The company then enrolled her in a monthly program where they charged her nearly $100 a month for new cream shipments. She had a hard time cancelling and was never able to recover her money.
Ferguson said that one way to prevent loss is to always pay for a credit card, and instead of dealing with the company itself, contact the credit card company directly to have payments stopped and the money refunded.
The class got people talking, and the seniors realized they were not alone in the attempts to con them out of their money. The extent of the fraud is huge, which is why the Attorney General’s Office has people like Ferguson traveling around the state to educate people about what to look for.
He also said that reporting scams, whether one fell victim or not, is essential to helping put an end to them. For more information on reporting scams, or more resources, go to http://www.michigan.gov/AGseniors.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the amount of scams and dollar amounts is annual and not monthly.
For previous articles about scams, see:
Here is a list of previous scam-related stories to be aware of:
Seniors Learn How Not to Get Scammed