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
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
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
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.