Life Care Consulting by Barbara Hance - Financial and Personal Management Service for the Elderly, Frail and the Busy
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How to Avoid Being a Victim

Barbara H. Hance, president of Barbara H. Hance Associates, knows how to avoid being a victim. And, she knows there are many smart people around today who are scam artists looking for their next victim. But there are simple ways senior citizens and everyone else can avoid becoming a victim. She shared her insights at a recent “lunch and learn” discussion at the Town & County Club of Hartford, addressing a group of more than 10 seniors.

“Fraud artists are not dumb, and the scams they create are cleverly packaged.” Hance said. “We have to be very smart to recognize when something is a scam and not set ourselves up unwillingly”.

Hance recommends that no one carry a Social Security care, Medicare Card or more than one credit card. “We don’t need our original Social Security card since it is not a valid form of ID, and most of us know our numbers by heart anyway,” Hance said. She added that if our purse or wallet is stolen while we are carrying these items, we’ve given thieves they need to find out who we are and steal our identity.

Once people steal our identities, they can apply for credit cards using phony mailing addresses. Or, when we throw out those ‘pre-approved’ credit cards, some thieves will pull them out from the trash and use them for years. The thief typically pays the minimum balance each month, until the credit line is increases to a large amount. When he/she makes a big purchase, the victim then becomes responsible.

“With consumer protection programs, we only have to a small amount of each credit card that has been illegally used in our names as long as we report it immediately” Hance said, “But these unpaid bills go on our credit reports since the thief used our Social Security number. Social Security numbers are easy to get. The current market price is reportedly $50. It took one of my clients one year and a lot of personal time and frustration to clear his name after learning that four cards were illegally opened in his name.

The Internet is another breeding ground for fraud. “So many companies create databases that are sold to other companies, and before you know it, your information is on countless telemarketing lists,” Hance said. “These companies can track where you are on the Internet, helping them better market directly to you.”

“And, there are companies that sell software to help people track and locate anyone through the Internet. The more information you put up on the Internet, the more information others may be able to access. Additionally, keep in mind that there is no privacy guarantee when companies collect data from you, via the Internet or other means. Although most companies have private policies, many of these have been rescinded in recent months no doubt because they plan to see the information they have collected – which could be your information.”

Hance recognizes that the Internet offers a lot of positive things for seniors, giving them an easy way to “connect” to the world, and a huge resource for information. And, it provides a place for “bargain shopping” on items such as on prescription drugs and vitamins. Hance warns seniors to purchase only from reputable companies, since some Internet companies sell “copy cat” drugs that don’t do anything.

Traditional mail and the telephone remain the most popular venues for fraud today, Hance said. Companies often conduct sweepstakes through the mail that claim you have won lots of money or expensive trips abroad. However, when you go to collect your prize, you learn there are many fees and taxes you need to pay first, or that your “cruise” is by rowboat.

Or, companies will see expensive products you don’t need or won’t ever use. “Sometimes people invites salespeople into their homes simply because they are lonely, which was the case with one of my clients,” Hance said. “This gives the salesperson an open door to keep selling more and more, especially if the product claims to save you money, improve your health, or keep you warm.”

Hance says scam artists even pretend to represent phony charities. “People will call and be very persistent about getting you to donate, sometimes even offering to come by your house to pick up a check,” she said. “Always ask for information in writing first, and always find out what percentage of your donation actually makes it to the charity. You may be surprised to find it’s only one or two percent.

Hance urges everyone to report any fraud or scam immediately to the police. She recommends writing down as much information as possible while it is still fresh in your mind. “There are laws against frauds and scams, and any information you provide might help the next person from being cheated,” she said.

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