Aging Well: Don't be duped - be aware of scams

• The AARP ElderWatch program works to prevent financial exploitation of older adults in Colorado. To report potential fraud or for consumer alerts, call 800-222-4444 (select option 2) or visit www.aarpElderWatch.org.

• For tips about preventing different types of fraud, visit the National Fraud Information Center, www.fraud.org.

• For more information about Internet fraud, visit www.lookstogoodtobetrue.com.

• "Do Not Call" Registries:

National: 888-382-1222 or www.donotcall.gov

Colorado: 800-309-7041 or www.coloradonocall.com

This article contains information from the Fraud Information Center, www.fraud.org and www.lookstogoodtobetrue.com.

Scam artists in Canada have been busy tricking, or trying to trick, local residents out of their money.

Known as "it's me" scams, the fraudulent calls have targeted mostly older adults and involve a caller claiming to be or represent a loved one who is injured or in distress, usually in Canada. The caller requests the person wire money for medical and other expenses. By the time the victims realize their friend or family member is fine (and not in Canada) the caller has walked away with hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Like many forms of telephone fraud, the "it's me" scams pressure potential victims with an urgent situation or "must act now" lines that, paired with concern or a fear of loss, deter a person from taking the time to think clearly about the situation.

This, in addition to a caller's refusal or inability to provide more information, is a red flag of fraud, said Amy Nofziger, program leader of AARP ElderWatch, a joint program between the AARP Foundation and the Colorado Attorney General's office.

If a person receives an "it's me" call, for example, they should ask the caller questions only the genuine caller would know.

"We find that if one or two questions are asked, it really reduces victimization," said Nofziger. "Scammers don't like questions."

Nearly one-third of all telemarketing fraud victims are 60 or older, according to the National Consumer League's Fraud Information Center.

Older adults may be targeted more because they tend to be home during the day, usually have more wealth, may be isolated from family or have cognitive problems affecting their judgment, Nofziger said.

Common cons

Telephone scams can take many forms. Some callers claim a person has won a prize, sweepstake or lottery but first must pay a fee to collect the gift.

Legitimate sweepstakes notify winners through certified mail or prize patrol and cannot, by law, request a person send money to claim a prize.

Both legitimate and fraudulent telemarketers target people with marketing lists compiled from public records and other sources such as warranty cards.

Contest boxes placed in malls and other places are another common ploy crooks use to obtain information about people. Once people participate in a telemarketing offer, they are placed on additional phone and mailing lists.

People can avoid calls from legitimate telemarketers (except nonprofit groups, charities, political organizations, surveys and companies they do business with) by adding their phone numbers to the National and Colorado Do Not Call registries.

Crooks likely don't heed these lists, so any telemarketing call should warn of a potential scam.

Fake check scams account for a large number of fraud cases, Nofziger said.

These scams involve a crook sending a person an authentic-looking check, cashier's check or money order. The victim deposits the check, keeps what they are owed, and wires the rest back to the scam artist.

By law, banks generally have to make deposited funds available in a short amount of time, even if the check has not yet cleared. By the time the bank discovers the forgery, the money has been wired and the crook is long gone.

This type of fraud is among those that originate in Canada or other countries where it's difficult to track and prosecute the criminals.

This scam has many variations. It can start with an offer to "work at home" or an email from a person claiming to have a big check they cannot cash in their own country.

Victims believe they will get to keep some of those funds as "payment" for depositing the checks into their own accounts and wiring money back to the scam artist.

Scammers often target individuals advertising goods or services for sale.

The Routt County Sheriff's office investigated a situation in which a lodging business received money orders via FedEx from a person claiming to plan a visit to the establishment. The scammer then claimed to have sent too much money and requested the business wire back the extra amount, Investigator Ken Klinger said.

It's important that people realize they are responsible for the checks they deposit and that there is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving a person money to ask that person to wire money back, according to the Fraud Information Center.

If a person suspects a check is fake, they can contact local police or take it to a bank, such as Alpine Bank, which has a tool to detect phony checks.

"Think about it - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true," Klinger said. "Take the time to follow up."

Nofziger emphasized the three R's of consumer protection: Recognize, refuse and report.

Don't be pressured by a caller. Take the time to ask questions, and think about the situation. Refuse - hang up if you have to - any offer or situation that seems shady and report possible fraud to police and/or organizations such as AARP ElderWatch, which issues consumer alerts based on reports it receives.

"The education is working," Nofziger said. "People are calling us and checking first : which is what we want because once the money is gone, it's gone."

Tamera Manzanares can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com.

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