Holiday telephone scams often target seniors

Published 7:06 pm Sunday, December 12, 2021

By Charlestien Harris

I am entering my 60s, so I am looking at financial issues that affect my age group more and more. One of the most common issues is telephone scams. 

Telemarketing fraud is a multi-billion dollar business in the United States. Every year, thousands of consumers lose from a few dollars to sometimes all or part of their life savings to telephone con artists.  This practice is especially prevalent during the holidays because during this time of the year most of us are in a hurry or in a time crunch to find or purchase that “perfect” gift.

If you are sixty years or older, you may be a special target for people or businesses who sell fraudulent products and services by phone. One of the reasons may be that people fifty and older hold approximately 83 percent of the wealth in America.  

Households headed by people in their seventies and eighties tend to have the highest median net worth.  Those facts alone can make seniors prime targets for financial scams.   

Fraudulent telemarketers try to take advantage of seniors by banking on the fact that they are more trusting and polite when it comes to interacting with strangers. Older women living alone are sometimes more susceptible and are special targets of these scam artists.  

During this time of year, seniors should be more vigilant when it comes to falling prey to these scams.   No matter what your age, anyone can fall victim to these deceptive practices so I have listed some common reasons why seniors fall victim to such scams.

Here are the four common reasons why seniors may fall victim to telemarketing scams: 

  • Not knowing whether a call is legitimate or not.
  • Scammers may take advantage of their loneliness.
  • The promise of free gifts or prizes.
  • The scammer has an answer for their objections or questions. 

Some common telemarketing scams are contests with prize offers, travel package deals, health product benefits, making investments, giving to charities and debit card scams.  

You can recognize these types of scams by listening for key phrases often used, such as “you must act now”, you have won a free gift”, “you must send money”, “you can’t afford to miss this deal” or “you don’t need to read or sign anything right now”.  

If you hear these or similar lines from a telephone salesperson, you should say, “no thank you” and hang up the telephone.  

One federal agency that regulates this industry is the Federal Trade Commission. They have a rule entitled, FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule that requires telemarketers to make certain disclosures and prohibits certain misrepresentations.  

It gives you the power to stop unwanted telemarketing calls and gives state law enforcement officers the authority to prosecute fraudulent telemarketers nationwide.  You can find the written rules and what it regulates here.   

With any rule there are some exceptions, such as calls placed by the consumer in response to general media advertising, calls placed by consumers in response to direct mail advertising, calls initiated by the consumer and sales that are not completed unless there is a face-to-face sales presentation.  

There are steps you can take to protect yourself, but it can be very difficult to get your money back if you have been cheated over the phone.  

Before you buy anything by telephone, make sure you’re familiar with the company and have the person on the phone state their name and a callback number. Always ask for written materials about any offer or charity and don’t provide payment until you receive it. 

Check the references of unfamiliar companies with your local Better Business Bureau, your Secretary of State office or the Attorney General office in your state. Never respond to an offer you don’t understand and also be aware that any personal information you provide may be sold to other companies.  

Many Attorneys General offices have a toll-free number or a consumer/tip hotline. You can also ask to be added to your state’s Do Not Call List.  

If the company calls you again, you can bring action in small claims court. To file a complaint, or get free information on any consumer topics you can call toll-free, 1-877-382-4357 or use the complaint from at www.ftc.gov.  Until next week, stay financially fit!