Fraud

According to the Uniform Crime Reports, in 1995 there were 331,651 arrests for fraud and embezzlement in the United States. Only about 1% of these cases involved victims aged 65 and over, but there is no doubt that older consumers are often targeted by unscrupulous marketers. Because older people spend a good portion of their days at home, they are easier to contact by telephone, by mail, and door-to-door by con artists attempting to sell worthless goods. Such frauds pervade almost every aspect of an older person's life: from health care to housing, from investment programs to travel promotions.

To the poor, they make "get rich quick" offers; to the rich, they offer investment properties; to the sick, they offer health gimmicks and new discoveries to cure ailments; to the healthy, they offer attractive vacation tours, and to those who are fearful of the future, they offer a confusing array of useless insurance plans. (U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 1994, pp. 386-387)

Confidence rackets, such as the "Bank Examiner Swindle," the "Pigeon Drop Swindle" (see Report 12-1 home-repair scams, and medical swindles and quackery often seem to be directed exclusively at helpless (and perhaps a little bit greedy) older adults who are lured by the promise of a high percentage increase in their life savings or of obtaining a retirement home and other goods and services at rock-bottom prices. Another example of fraud is the "sweepstakes" or "free giveaways" scheme:

3Project Focus (Department P, FAS, Room 9438,600 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10013) provides information on services available to older adults who need protection against abuse.

A consumer receives a postcard which announces that he or she is entitled to claim one or more prizes. The award notice is professionally designed to appear legitimate. The postcard bears a toll-free telephone number and the consumer is instructed that he or she must simply call to claim the prizes. Once the toll-free number is accessed, a recording instructs the consumer to touch numbers to the telephone which correspond with a "claim number" which appears on the postcard. Ultimately, the consumer receives no prize. What is received is a "telephone bill" which reflects a substantial charge for the call just as if a 900 number had been called. The entry of the sequence of numbers that matched the "claim number" engaged an automated information service for which the consumer is charged. (U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 1994, p, 386)

Materials designed to assist older Americans in avoiding exploitation by con men and bunco artists are distributed by the American Association of Retired Persons Criminal Justice Service, the Food and Drug Administration, the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the United Seniors Health Cooperative, and many other agencies and organizations. Suggestions for ways of minimizing the financial losses and physical damage resulting from victimization are also available.4

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