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Senior adults make easy fraud targets

By Linda Breazeale

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Today's senior adults grew up at a time when keys were left in cars, houses were rarely locked and people respected their elders, but times have changed.

Bill Moak of Mississippi's Better Business Bureau said seniors are especially vulnerable because they are so trusting. He wants to educate people about potential scams so they can recognize fraudulent claims when they encounter them.

“We (at the Better Business Bureau) investigate questionable marketplace practices,” Moak said. “It is possible for something to be legal without being ethical.”

Moak spoke at a recent statewide videoconference held in conjunction with Consumer Education Month. The conference was sponsored by the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

“Older Americans often fall victim to foreign lottery schemes, investment schemes, home improvement scams and phony charities,” Moak said.

Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with MSU's Extension Service, said many of these crimes go unreported because seniors are embarrassed to admit being duped.

“Senior adults can lose their life savings or their homes, but even smaller amounts can have a big impact on someone with a fixed income,” Shaffett said. “Seniors need to be wary of any unsolicited offers to provide a service, a product or awards that require up-front money.”

Shaffett said home repairs are frequent offers that may be overpriced or not done at all after a down payment is made.

“Because seniors are home more during the day, they become easier targets for people passing through town trying to make a fast dollar. They are also home to answer calls from telemarketers,” Shaffett said.

Some general consumer safety tips offered during the video conference that do not just apply to seniors include:

* Don't do business with someone who shows up uninvited at the door.
* Don't give personal information to callers or those who solicit through e-mail.
* Do not give in to pressure to act quickly.
* Read contracts thoroughly.
* Buy and use a shredder to dispose of papers with personal information.
* Review credit cards monthly and credit reports once a year.
* Use direct deposit options for checks.
*Take outgoing payments directly to the post office. Never leave checks in a home mailbox overnight.

-30-

Released: March 16, 2006
Contact: Dr. Bobbie Shaffett, (662) 325-3080

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