Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some tips to help protect seniors from telemarketing scams? My 80-year-old mother has been swindled out of several hundred dollars over the past year and keeps getting calls from scam artists.
Telemarketing fraud is a big problem in the United States, particularly among seniors who tend to be the most vulnerable and frequently targeted. Here’s what you should know, along with some tips to help protect your mom.
According to FBI reports, there are around 14,000 illegal telemarketing operations that steal more than $40 billion from unsuspecting citizens each year – most of whom are over the age of 60.
Telemarketing fraud happens when a con artist calls you up posing as a legitimate telemarketer and tries to cheat you out of your money by offering things like free prizes, vacation packages, sweepstakes or lottery winnings, discount medical or prescription drug plans, buying club memberships, credit and loan promises, investment and work-at-home opportunities and more. They also usually demand that you act right away and require some kind of up-front payment to participate or receive your winnings, which is always a red flag that the call is a scam.
Seniors also need to be careful of fake charity and fundraising phone scams, home improvement scams, fake checks (see fakechecks.org), grandparent scams, and invitations to free lunch seminars.
What you can do
The first thing you should do to help your mom steer clear of phone scams is to alert her to the problem and how to recognize it. To help you with this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers a consumer education website at ftc.gov/phonefraud that provides a rundown on some of the most common phone scams making the rounds these days and what to watch for. They also offer some helpful publications you can get for her like “Putting Telephone Scams on Hold” and “Who’s Calling? Recognize & Report Phone Fraud” that you can order for free by calling 877-382-4357.
The next step is to remind her to never give out her personal information like her credit card number, checking or savings account numbers, Social Security number or mailing address to telemarketers no matter what they promise or tell her. If she’s getting calls from telemarketers requesting this information, she should simply hang up the phone because it’s a scam.
If, however, your mom is having a hard time recognizing a scam or hanging up on pushy telemarketers, get her a caller ID and tell her not to pick up unless she recognizes the number of the caller. Or, ask her to let the calls go to voice mail. Telemarketers rarely leave messages.
Also, make sure her phone number is registered with the National Do Not Call Registry, which will significantly cut down the number of telemarketing calls she receives. You can register your mom’s phone number for free at donotcall.gov, or by calling 888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register.
Unfortunately, being on the registry will not stop calls from political organizations, charities, pollsters and companies that your mom has an existing business relationship with. And, it won’t stop telemarketing scams either. If your mom is getting a lot of calls, discuss the possibility of changing her phone number. Scam artists trade and sell what they call “suckers lists” of prior victims, and the only way to get her off these lists may be to change her number.
It’s also important that you or your mom report any suspicious telemarketing calls she gets to the FTC (see ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 877-382-4357) and to her State Attorney General. Reporting it helps law enforcement officials track down these scam artists and stop them. You’ll need to provide the telemarketer’s phone number, as well as the date and time of the call.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.