A couple of senior citizens in my neighborhood have been victims of financial fraud. One of these was by a close relative who made unauthorized withdrawals from the bank account of the victim. The other incident involved charges to a credit card by an unknown person.
According to information from the Minnesota Attorney General’s website, 60 percent of all callers to the National Fraud Information Center are senior citizens. Older people are frequent fraud victims for several reasons. They grew up in years when people were expected to scrimp and save for their own future and business was sometimes done on a handshake.
Senior citizens are targets of con artists because they are most likely to have a “nest egg.” They also often own their home and have excellent credit. People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. They also become more vulnerable as their mental capacity begins the natural decline that accompanies old age.
Con artists use the telephone, e-mail, postal mail and sometimes door-to door sales. Some of these are fake businesses and charities that may originate from anywhere in the world. Minnesota law requires that all charities be registered with the Attorney General’s Office.
That website is here: http://www.ag.state.mn.us/Charities/CharitySearch.asp.
Fraud takes many forms. A general overview of the different types can be found at StopFraud.gov. This describes such things as health/Medicare, identity theft, mass marketing, mortgage, securities and commodities, tax, job scams and charity frauds. These descriptions will help one to recognize a potential fraud situation.
Never give out a credit card number, checking or savings account number, or Social Security number to phone callers. Scammers often pretend to be your banker or credit card company to get your information. If you get such a call, hang up the phone and contact your bank or credit card company to see if the call actually came from them.
One of the most common forms of fraud involves credit cards. Some suggestions are:
• Keep the card close in your wallet or closed purse. Do not leave it out where it can be photographed with a cell phone.
• Some newer credit cards have radio frequency identification chips embedded. These cards can be read remotely by a card reader without being scanned. They reportedly can be read remotely while still in your wallet or purse by equipment that only costs a few dollars. I have obtained a special carrying case that prevents this remote reading. Some sources recommend wrapping aluminum foil around these cards to prevent fraudulent reading.
• Shred anything that has your credit card number on it with a crosscut shredder
• Don’t sign blank credit card receipts.
• Give your credit card information only on phone calls you initiate. Do not give numbers to incoming callers who may be scammers.
• Enter credit card information only on secure online web sites. Look for the web site address starting with https and padlock symbol in the address box of your Internet browser.
• Do not give credit card information to incoming emails.
• Review your online or printed billing statements for unauthorized charges and report any such charges immediately for correction.
Most of the phone calls and mail received by the seniors I know are solicitations of all kinds. They are mostly from political or charity organizations. Some are legitimate and some are not. We get on these lists when we make a purchase, participate in a store’s loyalty program, send donations to charities, fill out a product registration form or check out information online. This data is frequently compiled and sold to other businesses.
If you want to get your name added to the national do not call list to get rid of the nuisance phone calls go to and register at http://www.donotcall.gov/. You can get your name removed from mailing lists by going to the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service at http://www.dmachoice.org/ and registering online.
Individual direct mailers can be stopped or entire classes of mailings such as credit offers, catalogs, magazines, or other mail offers. This must be done every three years.
There are a couple of websites that have more information on fraud for senior citizens. The Minnesota “Senior’s Guide to Fighting Fraud” can be found at http://www.ag.state.mn.us/Consumer/seniors/Seniors_GFF.asp. The FBI has information at http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors.
It is important to stay alert for fraud. When in doubt, take the time to check it out before acting.
Chuck Drury is an Anoka resident, retired engineer and former technical director of Federal Cartridge Company.