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Common scams affecting seniors

Attorney General Jack Conway Warns Seniors of Common Scams

1-888-432-9257 – Consumer Protection Hotline
502-696-5389 – Consumer Protection office number
Attorney General website: www.ag.ky.gov

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway wants to make sure Kentucky’s senior citizens are armed with the latest information to protect themselves against fraud, identity theft and scams targeting the elderly.

“Sadly, scam artists continue to devise schemes that prey on the vulnerability and generosity of the elderly,” Attorney General Conway said. “My staff and I want to ensure that Kentucky’s senior citizens have the knowledge they need to protect themselves from bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, false employment opportunities, bogus charities, fake debt-relief scams, grandparent scams and others. The majority of these scams request personal and financial information in exchange for the promise of money.

A popular scam being received by Kentucky citizens involves an automated call claiming to reduce one’s credit card interest rate. The consumer is instructed to press “1” for an associate who then attempts to obtain personal information, including credit card information. These calls are believed to be an attempt to enroll the consumer in a debt consolidation plan for a fee or could be an attempt to steal credit card numbers for unauthorized use.

Another call being reported to the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection involves the sale of diabetic supplies by companies offering free supplies or monitors, and who claim to be an authorized Medicare provider. Seniors often are attracted to receiving something free and are easily coaxed into providing an unsolicited caller with personal information such as their Medicare number, birth date, and their doctor’s name and phone number. A form is then faxed to the senior’s doctor requesting that the patient’s prescription be transferred to the new supplier. Although some of these companies may be legitimate, others may charge the unsuspecting senior for the diabetic supplies or monitor because they are not Medicare approved. Seniors should rely on the advice of their doctor or pharmacist regarding offers of diabetic supplies and should research any supplier before any information is provided to unknown callers. Never provide personal information to unsolicited callers.

Sweepstakes and lotteries continue to entice consumers with promises of big payouts for a “fee”. Many seniors are homebound and enjoy the mail pieces they receive from sweepstakes promoters. Unfortunately, many sweepstakes are bogus and victimize those who are least able to afford the loss. Illegal sweepstakes promoters often send either a check or money order to the senior in order to pay “upfront” fees prior to receiving the “big prize.” The promoter instructs the senior to deposit the check into his or her bank account and then withdraw cash to wire to the promoter for taxes, insurance, or other fees. When the senior does so, the account holder later discovers that the check is counterfeit and then owes the bank for the money that was withdrawn, plus any additional overdraft fees. Prizes of money are never received in this scam. The bogus promoter is the only one receiving money.

Other sweepstakes scammers may ask the senior to purchase a prepaid loadable credit card instead of wiring money. These can be purchased at local retail stores. The promoter then calls for the numbers on the card. The card then can be depleted of all the money loaded onto it in just a matter of seconds and the transaction is difficult if not impossible to trace. Seniors should be aware that all foreign lotteries and sweepstakes are illegal. If there is a request for money upfront, it is illegal. And the more one responds to sweepstakes offers, the more likely one’s name will be shared with other promoters. Also be aware that some bogus promoters use well-known sweepstakes names such as Publisher’s Clearing House to entice consumers to respond. Never pay upfront fees, or give personal information to callers claiming that you have won a prize.

Government grant opportunity scams have been reported regularly to the Office of Consumer Protection. These callers announce to the consumer they qualify for a “guaranteed government grant” because they have “been a good citizen”, or have paid their taxes on time each year. The caller indicates that the money may be used to make repairs on the home, assist grandchildren with college expenses, or help pay for medications or living expenses. The caller instructs the senior to wire money for an application fee which, they say, will be refunded back to them once the grant is processed. These government grants are frauds and should be reported to the Office of the Attorney General.

Unscrupulous charities often target seniors who have an affinity for veteran’s organizations, health organizations, religious organizations, children’s groups and animal causes. Seniors should research these organizations and spend their charitable dollars wisely. Kentucky law requires professional solicitors to register with the Office of the Attorney General. They should provide their name, the name of the professional solicitation organization, and the name of the charity for which they are soliciting when making calls. Ask questions and beware of sound-alike charities. Ask what percentage of your dollar will actually go to the charity. By law, they must tell you. You can verify any information by contacting the Office of the Attorney General at 502-696-5389 or by visiting www.ag.ky.gov. If you choose to give, give wisely. Do not feel guilty saying “no” to charitable callers.

Beware of “secret shopper” employment opportunities that claim money is made very easily. Seniors often see this as an opportunity to supplement their limited income. Seniors may be notified that they have been selected to serve as a representative in their region to evaluate customer service in a major retail chain and with a major money wire transfer service. Seniors are usually sent a check to deposit into their account. They are then instructed to withdraw the funds in cash and shop for specified items at the assigned retailer to evaluate the store’s customer service. After this assignment, the senior is instructed to wire money through Western Union or Money Gram to evaluate their service. The money left over, usually about $300, serves as compensation for the senior’s “work”.

Unfortunately, the bank then notifies the senior that the check the secret shopper employer initially sent to them is counterfeit, and the senior will need to repay the bank. These scams are often initiated by responding to employment opportunities online or in tabloid type newspapers. Avoid responding to these ploys.

The grandparent scam has been a very popular call received by Kentucky consumers, and unfortunately, Kentucky has had several victims. The caller claims to be a grandson or granddaughter of the senior and often calls the senior by name. The caller usually claims to be in distress and asks the grandparent for help due to an accident while on business or pleasure out of the country. Usually the incident involves the grandchildren being in an automobile accident and they are detained by the police for alcohol or drugs in the vehicle. The caller pleads with the grandparent not to not tell his or her parents and instructs the grandparent to wire money to pay for bond fees, repair of the vehicle, replacement of a passport, etc. The Office of the Attorney General urges grandparents not to fall for this common scam. Seniors should verify the grandchild’s whereabouts with their parents or call the cell phone of the grandchild to determine if they are in trouble. Some callers may even know the name of the grandchild they are pretending to be. Experts believe scammers obtain this information from social networking sites and piece information together to perpetrate a believable scenario.

Some helpful tips for seniors:
• Beware of home solicitors. Keep the door closed to people you don’t recognize. Talk through the storm door if necessary. Door-to-door repair people are included in this warning.

• Research the product, service, company, or charitable organization before you buy or contribute money.

• Don’t do business with unsolicited callers, especially those offering to “fix your credit,” “consolidate your loans,” or those claiming to be from Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. These callers may mention that they are having difficulty depositing your stimulus payment, or need to verify your information in order for you to receive the payment. They are looking to steal your identity or take money from your bank account.

• Never cash a check that you have received with a sweepstakes or lottery letter. If the letter instructs you to cash the check and wire money to pay for “fees” or “insurance,” don’t do it. The check is counterfeit and the bank will hold you liable for the funds.

Consumers who suspect they have been a victim of a scam can call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-888-432-9257 or visit http://ag.ky.gov/civil/consumerprotection.


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