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Outsmart Scam Artists: Protect Yourself and Your Loved One

Don't fall victim to phony solicitations

En español | Scams abound these days, and even savvy consumers can fall victim if they’re not careful. Older adults, in particular, are frequent targets of fraudulent and deceptive business practices because of the perception that they’re more likely to trust and act politely toward strangers.

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Don’t let a scam artist take advantage of you or your loved one. Take these precautions to protect yourselves.

Learn to Spot Common Scams
Con artists use a variety of methods to dupe unsuspecting consumers. We often hear about Internet-based scams, but swindlers also lure people in with phone calls, direct mailings, broadcast and print advertisements, and door-to-door solicitations.

A healthy dose of skepticism can protect you and your loved one in any circumstance, particularly when you come across offers such as these:

  • Living trust kits and seminars, especially those "endorsed" by AARP: Note that AARP does not sell or endorse living trust products. If you want to know if a trust is right for you, seek advice from a licensed and experienced estate-planning attorney.
  • "Free lunch" financial seminars: These seminars typically involve high-pressure sales tactics. For more, click here.
  • Unsolicited reverse mortgage offers: Do your homework before considering any reverse mortgage product. Learn about reverse mortgages here.
  • "Free" or "low-cost" vacations or prizes: You usually have to buy something, give out personal information or attend a high-pressure sales presentation in order to get the prize, which may turn out to be worthless.
  • Investment opportunities and other offers that sound too good to be true

Never let anyone pressure you or your loved one into making an immediate decision. If you’re not interested, say, "No thank you." Otherwise, say that you need to think about it. If a telephone solicitor continues to apply pressure, simply hang up the phone. Install and use caller ID to screen out unfamiliar callers. And do the same for your loved one.

Other advice for you and your loved one:

  • Always ask for information in writing before giving money to a business or charity.
  • Beware of any charity or business that refuses to provide written information or references.
  • Never give out Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or bank account information to anyone on the phone or Internet until you have independently verified who is asking for the information and why they want it.

Cut Down on Solicitations
To limit the number of solicitations you and your loved one receive by phone, snail mail and e-mail, take these steps:

  • Add phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry. Register numbers by visiting www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222 from the number(s) you would like to register. A number will remain on the registry until you remove it or until the number is disconnected.
  • Get caller ID. Placing phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry will stop most telemarketing calls; however, political organizations, charities and companies with whom you have an existing relationship may still call. Caller ID shows who is calling before the call is answered. Don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers.

  • Visit the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) website to reduce commercial mail. You’ll need to create a DMAchoice account (it’s free), and then you can specify what types of mailings you do and do not wish to receive at your house or the home of your loved one. The DMA will save preferences for three years, and DMA members will add or remove your name from their mailing lists based on those preferences. Just remember: mail from any organization that is not a DMA member will still come through, as well as mail from any company with which you or your loved one has done business (for instance, if you’ve ordered from a particular catalog, you’ll still receive that catalog).

  • Opt out of unsolicited "pre-approved" credit offers. Call 888-567-8688 or visit www.optoutprescreen.com to request that the major credit bureaus not share personal information with creditors and insurance companies for promotional purposes. You can opt out for five years, or you can have your name and your loved one’s name permanently removed from credit bureaus’ lists. You will need to provide Social Security numbers and other personal information, which will be used only to process your request.
  • Protect your information and time online. Don’t give a website any personal details until you’ve checked its privacy policy. Be especially careful about sharing your Social Security number and credit card information. If you must register with a website, consider using a secondary e-mail address — one you use expressly for website registrations. This will cut down on e-mail sent to your primary address. Also, many websites let you opt out of having your information shared with others or used for promotional purposes; if given the choice, opt out. If your loved one is Internet savvy, instruct him to do the same.

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