Becoming the victim of a violent crime tops the list of fears for the vast majority of older men and women. In reality, they are much more likely to become the quarry of telemarketing con artists.
“At any given minute of the day, more than 14,000 companies are calling to swindle you out of your money,” said Doug Shadel, a former fraud investigator for the Washington state attorney general’s office, as he spoke Wednesday at a retirement seminar sponsored by the AARP.
Older people constitute less than one-half of 1 percent of violent crime victims, but they comprise half of the people who are conned out of $40 billion in telemarketing fraud each year, Shadel said, citing FBI statistics.
“It can happen to anyone because con artists are so pathologically good at persuading people out of their money,” Shadel said. And society is awash in companies, even legitimate ones, using a sweepstakes mentality - the idea there is a shortcut to riches - to sell stuff, he said.
In his presentation, Shadel described some prevalent scams.
“The free-prize-give-away is a pitch used in 90 percent of telemarketing. The call goes like this: ‘Mrs. Green? I’m calling from ABC marketing company. Are you sitting down? You have just won a new $50,000 Lexus and have the option of taking the car or a $50,000 cashiers check. Second prize is a $10,000 cashiers check, the third a vacation, and the fourth a $2,000 diamond necklace from Tiffany’s of London.”’
Mrs. Green is persuaded to show her appreciation to the sponsors by writing a check for $700 for a three-year supply of vitamins “worth $2,000,” and is told she will at least win the necklace.
At this point in Shadel’s depiction, a man seated in the third row in the social hall at Freemont Presbyterian Church, raised his hand and said, “I did get that call.”
What Mrs. Green gets is $80 worth of vitamins and a cubic zirconium necklace worth $10 in a box marked “Tiffany’s.”
Another telemarketing problem is money raised in the name of legitimate charities by professional fund-raisers, who keep a high percentage of the money, Shadel said.
An example: “How many of you have been called by someone representing the firefighters, police or sheriff’s association?,” he asked. Dozens of hands shot up.
“Here’s what can happen. A professional fund-raiser comes to Sacramento and asks the police guild, ‘How would you like a $5,000 cashiers check right now? Sign this paper authorizing us to use your name in fund-raising for 30 days.”’
The telemarketers then set up a boiler room. Their pitch, Shadel said, begins, “Hi! I’m calling from the Sacramento Police Department.”
“Let’s say they raise $50,000 and leave town,” he added. “That means 90 percent of the money you gave, thinking it would make you safer, left the city.”
Shadel recommended when anyone calls asking for a donation, ask how they spent contributions last year, if they hired a professional fund-raiser, how much the fund-raiser got, how much went to the charitable purpose? “If they refuse to answer or send written information, don’t give money.”
He also recommended creating an personal giving plan. “When the calls come say, ‘I’m sorry. I have my own plan. I’ll consider you next year. Send me the information.”’
Once a person becomes a victim of the prize pitch, they are identified as a “mooch” and their name is sold to other telemarketers, Shadel said.
Warning signs an elderly person may be a target are large amounts of mail lying around offering free prizes and investment opportunities, secretive, nervous behavior, frequent telephone calls from strangers or stops by courier services.
xxxx FOR HELP For assistance, call your state attorney general’s office or the National Fraud Information Center, 1-800-876-7060.