Scam artists target senior citizens

Senior citizens looking for a good place to retire are attracted to Arizona's temperate climate and affordable housing.

But the growing senior citizen population has attracted some unwanted visitors – scam artists.

"We get a lot of calls about scams against the elderly.

It is a huge problem," said Patti Urias, information officer for the Arizona State Attorney General's Office.

Urias said two of the scams often perpetrated are funeral home frauds and living trust scams where con artists try to sell a living trust packet to get financial information about a senior citizen.

Another scam against seniors involves the use of telemarketers, said Ray DeLaRose, of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, Aging and Adult Administration.

"Telemarketers target seniors because it is so easy to get their confidence.

The problem is, seniors are isolated and home a lot.

The few calls they get they cherish, because they want to talk to someone.

It is easy to gain their trust.

They often end up divulging a credit card number.

"The telemarketer says he is selling something, or has a prize, or wants the senior to donate to a charity.

It is easy to gain their trust.

It is really a shame that they are taken advantage of," DeLaRose said.

He added that scams occur in Kingman because of the large population of retired seniors here.

"We have our share of these types of crimes," agreed Lt.

Dean Brice of the Kingman Police Department.

"If relatives or friends of a senior suspect this type of crime has been committed they should call Adult Protective Services at the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

But Dean said, unfortunately, it is sometimes a family member, a son or a daughter, that scheme to get money from a parent's financial assets, such as money from a savings or checking account.

"We have some on-going investigations going on right now," he said.

"The cases have been related to meth substance abuse problems.

That is their means of sustaining the habit."

Dean said he also knows of telemarketers that travel from town to town throughout the country with the intent of swindling senior citizens.

"There are 140,000 telemarketing firms operating in the United States.

More than 10 percent are fraudulent according to the FBI," said AARP representative John Sloan.

Sloan said consumers lose an estimated $40 billion a year on fraudulent telemarketing schemes.

"A 1998 AARP survey shows 56 percent of the victims (of telemarketing fraud) were 50 years old or older," he said.

"Senior citizens are normally less prone to hang up.

They are more apt to be nice to someone calling."

Sloan said the pleasant voice of the telemarketer on the other end of the line tries to sell something, or tells the caller he or she has won a prize, but money is needed.

Another scam involves receiving a letter indicating that a fantastic prize can be won by calling a toll free telephone number.

When the apparent prizewinner calls the number, he or she is instructed to send the company a $150 check to process the paperwork to receive the prize.

But when the person receives it, the "prize" is worth about $5.

"Never give out your social security number, checking account or credit card number to anyone over the phone unless you know for certain who you are talking to," he said.

Senior citizens can also become victims of mail fraud.

"Seniors receive cards or letters telling them they have won a product or a service as a prize.

But then they are asked to send money.

Or they receive a chain, or 'pyramid' letter asking them to send money.

But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Sloan said.

Another swindle perpetrated against senior citizens is the home repair scam.

"The elderly get stuck on that a lot.

This is where someone calls or comes to your door and says they are in the area doing roof repairs or paving driveways," he said.

"They have no intention of doing the work, or they spray a useless solution of the roof, and expect to be paid.

Some scam artists want the money before the work is done."

"Never deal with anybody but a local licensed contractor," Sloan advised.

Medical fraud is another scam that can affect senior citizens.

"The ads say 'lose weight overnight,' or the ad offers an 'instant' cure for arthritis' or promises to make someone 'look years younger," he said.

"But they don't live up to what they claim.

If someone is concerned they should see a local doctor."

He added that if anyone has been the victim of fraud they should always report it to the Arizona Attorney General's office at (800) 352-8431.

For information, contact the National Consumers League's Fraud Information Center at (800) 876-7060.