Some Fun With Old Age
This Week in Elder News: 22 November 2008

Consumer Fraud and Elders

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The new, non-election campaign Issues post begins on Sunday. You can find out more about it here. So if you have blog stories from this week to submit for the list, be sure to email links to me by end of today, Friday.]

A few days ago, Alexandra Grabbe of Wellfleet ChezSven blog, who I visited in Wellfleet, Massachusetts a few weeks ago, emailed about a telephone fraud she ran into and I was reminded that we’ve never discussed this topic at Time Goes By although it comes to mind from time to time.

From nothing more that ageist thinking along with regularly-occurring news stories like this one about a woman who succumbed to the Nigerian scam to the tune of $400,000, there is a general consensus that elders are more susceptible (too stupid to know better) than younger people to fraud. So when I followed up in a telephone conversation with Nat Wood, the assistant director of business and consumer education at the Bureau of Consumer Protection within the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), I was delighted to learn the following:

“In all cases, consumers 65 years of age or older were less likely to have experienced each of the frauds than were younger consumers…Prize promotion fraud and fraudulent buyers’ club billing were the frauds seniors most frequently reported experiencing. However, only 1.0 percent of seniors reported experiencing each of these frauds…

“Seniors were much less likely than younger consumers to report purchasing a fraudulent weight-loss product. Less than 1 percent of those 65 and over reported having made such purchases, significantly lower than the approximately 2.5 percent rate for those between 18 and 34 and those between 35 and 64.”
- FTC Report on Consumer Fraud in the United States, October 2007 [pdf]

Although it is the birthright of every American to bitch about the government, and we’ve had many reasons during the Bush II administration to do so, what is often forgotten is that within various agencies of government, many good non-politicians are putting some of our tax dollars to excellent use producing research, studies and hard information that can help improve our lives. The FTC is one of them.

We elders may be up a rung or two over younger people in terms of fraud recognition, but we don’t know it all and scammers are slick. The FTC website is a resource you should know about.

Phone Fraud
In the Who’s Calling? section, there are explanations of how phone frauds work. From credit and travel scams to charity fraud, medical discount plans and more, there’s all you need to know to recognize phone fraud for what it is. You can also sign up for the Do Not Call Registry and if you get a call that you recognize as fraudulent, there is an easy Complaint Assistant form with which to report it to the FTC.

Internet Fraud
At The FTC’s Onguard Online website, the agency has broken down internet safety into 16 topics. While some will get you up to speed on email scams, internet auctions, malware, investing, shopping, etc. Nat tells me that phishing is the most important.

If you don’t know the word, phishing is a scam, as the site explains, “where internet fraudsters send spam or pop-up messages to lure personal and financial information.” The information on how to protect yourself is clear, easy to understand and there are also several links to easily report phishing scams you run into to the FTC and other organizations that track this kind of fraud.

Bogus Cancer Cures
At the Cure-ious site, the FTC covers cancer cure scams - how to recognize them together with a list of products and treatments the FTC has found to be fraudulent. There is also a list of organizations that are good starting points for research into cancer treatments and, like the other FTC fraud sites, you can also easily report cancer cure fraud.

The FTC maintains its own YouTube channel of videos that cover phishing, identity theft at home, work and shopping - and this one on telemarketing fraud [3:08 minutes].

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Old Woman gives us the final installment of Falling Apart Together - Part 2.]


Good information to know. The marvelous Common Craft site just produced a video explaining phishing. I can recommend it for anyone.

Good info!!!! I get calls and tell them to put me on their DNC list and ask to speak to their supervisor. They hang up. I don't care as long as they don't call back.

Phishing gets on my last nerve and it seems like they should be able to control it but they don't.

One area that I think elders might be targeted for unnecessary spending -- perhaps not fraud -- is the conversion to digital television. Seniors who don't know better may be hoodwinked into subscribing to cable or satellite or buying a TV they don't need.

We just unveiled a free community-based tool to help these seniors get the info they need about the DTV transition. Check it out at

We are on the DNC list and it seems to work in most cases. A while back we kept getting RoboCalls saying we HAD to contact a representative right now to get better interest rates on our credit cards. I kept hanging up but a few days later they would call back and say press 8 to be removed from the calling list. When I did this the Robo Caller said that is an invalid response. Finally the next time they called I pressed the number to be conected with alive rep ( who would " HELP" me with my credit cards. When this person answered I asked which credit cards they were referring to. She said any of them.
I said "Oh do I need to give you all my credit card numbers? ( I was playing dumb)
Oh no she replied, just one credit card number.

I said Do you think I am stupid to give you, a perfect stranger, my credit card number?
She promptly hung iup.

But I worry about the unsuspecting people who may inadvertently give out their credit card numbers to these crooks.

Where I've heard nightmare stories about scams working is when the person they're worked on is suffering from dementia, either primary or related to another illness -- Parkinson's Disease is the one i know the most about: women financially wiped out because they couldn't keep their husbands w/ PD away from the mail, the bank, or the computer.

It's wrong to collapse "elderly" with "demented," but it's also important to recognize that early-stage dementia, including Alzheimer's, can manifest itself not with forgetfulness but with poor executive-level thinking: judgment, decision-making. And the risk of dementia increases with age, like many other illnesses.

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