Have you given any thought to the problem of fraud in our country? I can tell you from the six years I worked with the Kansas Silver Haired Legislature and another 12 years with the AARP State Legislative Committee that fraud is on the loose in our country, and older people are many times the victims.
As older people, we had confidence in our citizens and neighbors and so we did not lock our doors, or we loaned them help or money when they needed it. I think also of the many miles I hitchhiked when traveling, and that is a dangerous thing today.
Elderly people are also victims because when someone phones and is nice to you. It isn't hard to give answers to questions that might lead to trouble. I am sorry to say it, but many times the victims are elderly women.
The AARP has been active in helping to prevent fraud and has provided some interesting and helpful information. It reports there are approximately 140,000 telemarketing firms operating in the United States, and possibly 10 percent of them might be fraudulent, according to the FBI. The FBI also said consumers lose an estimated $40 billion each year to criminal telemarketers. AARP also found that 56 percent of telemarketing fraud victims surveyed were 50 years of age and older.
What are some of the signs to watch for? Here are suggestions offered by the AARP, and they are well worth remembering.
* Phone calls from people who solicit charity donations, offer fantastic prizes and no-risk investments, all with a fee that needs to be paid immediately.
* Phone solicitors who require you to courier (messenger) money or give a credit card number to claim your prize.
* Unsolicited phone calls from people who seem to know a lot about you and are interested in helping you win the big prize, or get rich from a no-risk investment.
* Mail solicitations promising big prizes, wonderful vacations and no-risk investments -- and all you pay is tax, bond fees or delivery charges.
The AARP offers some good tips to combat the criminal caller:
* Beware of anyone who asks you to send money or buy anything sight unseen, unless you are certain you are dealing with a reputable firm.
* Never give out your credit card information over the phone. Don't pay for a free prize. Free is free. If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes on the prize, he or she has violated federal law.
* Refuse to be rushed into anything. The more a caller tries to hurry you into buying or sending money, the more likely he or she is a criminal. Offering to send a messenger to pick up your payment is a clear sign of fraudulent activity. Asking the caller to put in writing rarely offers protection to the customer. It often leads to credible-looking letters that in the consumer's mind seem to legitimize what in fact is a bad deal.
If you receive a suspicious call or an unsolicited one that sounds similar to "criminal lines," call your state attorney general or your local consumer protection agency. Here is the Kansas attorney general's number: (800) 332-2310. They welcome your call and will provide you with good information.
To continue with the AARP information, here is some information that is good to know:
Telemarketing fraud is a crime. It violates federal and state laws and regulations. Federal Trade Commission regulations require the following:
* In the beginning of a call, the caller must identify the company's name and, if it's a sales call, what is being sold
* If a prize is offered, you have to be told immediately that no purchase or payment is necessary to win.
* You must not be asked to pay in advance for services. Pay for services only after they are actually delivered.
* You must not be called before 8 in the morning and after 9 in the evening, your local time.
* You must not be called repeatedly or be intimidated by the caller.
* You must be to1d the costs and restrictions before you pay for products or services.
The most common scams to watch for are those with phony prizes, illegal sweepstakes, fake charities and sham investments. They are certainly not all of the scams of today, and new ones are continually showing up. The ease of communication with all of the electronic equipment of today makes the job of the criminal easier and faster.
Here is another suggestion: Be careful when mailing checks by putting them into an envelope and leaving it on the mailbox for your mail carrier to pick up. That makes it easy for the criminal to pick it up, and that gives him your bank account number. It happens because we know from experience. We took the proper steps immediately so that no loss came from it.
One more suggestion -- be sure to lock your home at night and when you plan to be away from it for even a little while. The police will tell you that it takes a thief only a few minutes to take advantage of you.
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.