Seniors learn how to avoid being victims - East Valley Tribune: News

Seniors learn how to avoid being victims

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Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 6:54 pm | Updated: 2:09 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

"If it sounds too good to be true ... it usually is." The old adage was told often to about 50 senior citizens from across the East Valley who attended an "anti-crime university" hosted by Attorney General Terry Goddard on Tuesday.

"If it sounds too good to be true ... it usually is."

The old adage was told often to about 50 senior citizens from across the East Valley who attended an "anti-crime university" hosted by Attorney General Terry Goddard on Tuesday.

The program at Friendship Village retirement community in Tempe was presented to help seniors learn how to protect themselves and their money from fraudulent schemes.

Called "Senior Sleuths," it was part of a multifaceted volunteer program for seniors that started in Florida about 20 years ago and now is catching on in Arizona as crimes targeting seniors have increased, especially during a bad economy, according to Pam Stevenson, senior policy adviser with the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

Groups of seniors listened to presentations from various officials informing them how to detect and protect themselves from work-at-home schemes, telemarketing, bogus lotteries, and investment fraud that sometimes is church-based and promises large and "guaranteed" returns.

Often, these groups name themselves to sound like the familiar charity organizations but add an extra word or two to their name.

"Never let anyone in your house you don't know or didn't expect," said Debra Boehlke, a crime prevention specialist for the attorney general's office. "If you receive a phone call from someone asking you to send them money or to provide your bank account number, don't do it. Call the police or our office. We want to know about it. That's how we catch these people."

Work-from-home scams, such as those involving Web sites where seniors have to pay investment fees, have increased 300 percent from a year ago, Goddard said.

Bogus lottery scams such as the "Canadian lottery" or "Spanish lottery" in which perpetrators call seniors to inform them of their winnings but first require them to pay fees or taxes to collect also are up, Goddard said.

"It is increasing with the bad economy," Stevenson said of the scams. "Seniors are more likely to have assets and money to take. They're always home and they always answer the door."

Kate Campbell of Scottsdale, who attended Tuesday's anti-crime university, said she had to cancel her credit card and get a new one after a pharmacy group she never heard of took $1 a month out of her account for six months.

"Although it wasn't much money, it was easier to get a new credit card number than to keep taking time to try to contact someone at the company that claimed I was their member," she said.

More anti-crime university events now are being planned for seniors throughout the Valley.

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