Fraud-Prevention Tips for Seniors
A group of fraud experts instructed seniors on how not to be the next victim of a fraud or scam, whether it's a bogus lottery or identity theft.
Seniors who want to know how to spot a fraud or scam before it happens – and those who worry they have been victimized by a con artist – need to know there is help.
A recent forum at St. Petersburg's Sunshine Center featured a panel of professionals with agencies that deal with fraud against the elderly. The panel told seniors about community resources that help older citizens keep themselves from becoming victims.
The panelists were:
- Elder Victim Advocate Cathy Stallings with the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas, Inc. (AAAPP);
- Postal Inspector Sherri Lanham with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service;
- Insurance Specialist Janet Schopp, with the Bureau of Consumer Outreach, Florida Department of Financial Services;
- Special Investigator Karen L. Ortega and Lt. John Womer, the Division of Insurance Fraud-West Central Region, Florida Department of Financial Services.
Highlights of the 90-minute forum included an overview of AAAPP’s Senior Victim Advocate Program, in which Cathy Stallings briefly shared how she can help older adults as a “victim advocate” for them.
“I can accompany you to court, speak on your behalf and assist with property return and preparation of legal forms.”
Other ways she can help include providing information and referral counseling as well as criminal court orientation. The program’s services are free to victims of crime who live in Pinellas and Pasco counties and are over 60.
Stallings also spoke on the AAAPP’s Senior Safety Phones Project, which provides older citizens with a free cell phone to make it easy to call 911 in an emergency.
Donations of no-longer-used cell phones and chargers are welcomed and can be dropped off at several locations in Pinellas and Pasco counties. Please call Cathy Stallings at 727-570-9696, ext. 259.
Sherri Lanham noted as a postal inspector for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, she is a sworn federal law enforcement officer. This means she carries a firearm, makes arrests and serves federal search warrants and subpoenas in investigating postal cases and preparing them for civil action in court.
Particular fraudulent schemes against older citizens sare illegal telemarketing, bogus sweepstakes campaigns and lottery scams. In each of these, the modus operandi tends to be con artists trying to get people to play games for a fee, promising they will be a winner.
It might be an old cliché, but Lanham says, it is still a good rule to follow: “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Lanham also addressed another big problem: identity theft. She strongly encouraged people to shred documents and paperwork with personal information, before they are discarded. She equally stressed the importance of protecting your Social Security number. A key means of protection is “not to carry your Social Security card around in your wallet. Unless you need it for some reason when you are out, leave it at home.”
Janet Schopp, who seeks complaints of insurance fraud from consumers in her outreach with the Florida Department of Financial Services, urged people to contact her office, at 727-587-7277, with problems about an insurance company or agent.
“Our job is to make sure what they say (in serving customers) is what they really do.” And she encouraged individuals to not be hesitant about contacting her office. “We cannot help you, if you don’t call us.”
When Schopp runs across complaints that are credible, she refers them to a special investigator, like Karen L. Ortega. Ortega explained in detail just how unscrupulous some companies and/or the agents for these companies can be, when it comes to financial fraud and preying on the elderly.
One area in particular is with annuities. She noted, for example, a number of cases where she learned of agents going into nursing homes to sell residents annuities to residents incapable of making such financial decisions.
Perhaps the best statement during this forum came from the final speaker, Lt. John Womer.
In summing up what he wanted people to take away from the symposium, he stated, “Don’t trust anybody. Before you make any kind of (financial) decision, find someone you trust (to help you.) Don’t set yourself up to be a victim.”