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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, September 20, 2010
Many contests, sweepstakes and lotteries come with a catch. After the lucky winner sends a requested fee—usually for "taxes" or "insurance" on the promised windfall—he or she gets nothing in return except a smaller bank account.
The problem is, many victims don't realize they're being scammed. They just want to keep going.
Bogus games are a worry for adult children whose parents habitually respond to such offers. Says Susan Slater, 68, of Massachusetts: "My 94-year-old mother receives several mail requests per day with promises of winning money. She is positive that most are real, and is spending much of her time opening the envelopes, reading in detail, and worrying over losing the contests if she doesn't enter on time."
Where children often go wrong, says Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University's Center on Longevity, is in getting upset at a parent's actions, and making comments such as "How can you fall for this?" or "Don't be stupid; it's clearly a scam."
This reaction only makes "the elders pull away from you," says Carstensen—especially if it's followed by threats to take over their finances or get power of attorney. It drives a wedge between victims and people who might protect them.
There are better ways to prevent rip-offs of habitual contest entrants:
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).
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