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Beware of scams to fleece seniors

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By Susan Tompor
Detroit Free Press
Once revered as a Wall Street genius, Bernie Madoff became a synonym for a crook three years ago after he was exposed for running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.
But fraud doesn't stop on Park Avenue. Sadly, plenty of little Madoffs live all around us, and they often target seniors because, as one investigator put it, seniors are home and they answer the phone.
Seniors are at risk of all sorts of financial exploitation -- from con artists promising a shopping spree in return for a small processing charge on a debit card to crooked financial advisers talking someone into shifting retirement money from a 401(k) plan into a self-directed IRA, and then putting that money into some fraudulent movie scheme.
And, yes, a grandson or granddaughter on drugs can become a predator, too. Many times victims are too ashamed to take legal action against a broker -- or a family member -- who has stolen from them.
FBI agents who spoke at a Fraud Fighter College at Marygrove College in Detroit last week noted that sometimes victims will lie to loved ones for years because they don't want to admit falling for a con.
The FBI warned about Forex scams promising quick money from trading foreign currency; sweepstakes scams involving wiring some money upfront to Western Union; and foreclosure scams where people claim to buy your house to cover your mortgage debt and ask you to pay rent. The rent is collected, but the mortgage isn't paid and the property is foreclosed.
Con artists even use automated calls that "warn" consumers about fraud, and then instruct them to call a toll-free number to "confirm information" by giving away bank account or Social Security numbers.
Crooks also use fake caller ID to make bogus calls look like they're coming from a legitimate agency.
Susan Peters, a citizen education speaker from the Michigan Attorney General's Senior Brigade, said seniors need to be especially careful about letting medical and other personal paperwork pile up on the dining room table or other accessible places.
As people get older, she said, more service workers, health care aides and others will visit, and the unscrupulous among them can steal numbers or other valuable information from such documents.
Peters warned of another scam where someone calls to say you are facing arrest for missing jury duty. The caller asks to "verify" a Social Security number. Don't give it, she said, adding that the No. 1 thing a person can do to fight identity theft is to not give away information.
Story tags » Personal FinanceSenior issues



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