Boomer Lifestyles Article
STAYING ALERT TO PHONE & CHARITY SCAMS
(50PlusPrime) JUPITER, FLORIDA --
We often talk about our aging population becoming more vulnerable, and the reasons they do so are many. One of the biggest reasons has to do with the fact that adult parents oftentimes no longer live near their adult children, and they lose that close connection to family.
Loss of a mate and close friends also contributes to the vulnerability equation, as there are fewer close friends to talk to about simple things in their lives. And time alone can create feelings of isolation, despair and a longing for a friendly voice – even if that voice is one of a stranger. That’s where things can get ugly.
Enter the professional telemarketer or the letter that is written in such as way as to easily confuse even younger people about being winners of sweepstakes or contests. These companies and people often become the senior’s primary or only link to the outside world. They do so by befriending them via telephone, and following up after a solicitation letter aimed at “hooking” that senior into believing that they are either doing some great worldly good. It’s a simple process, usually saying something like you’re just one more $50.00 check away from getting that Grand Prize that’s been promised. You’d be amazed who and how many get caught up in their nets.
I can remember walking into my father’s apartment several years before he passed away. I found dozens of “Collector Plates” stacked in a closet, piles of magazine subscriptions and countless sweepstakes forms promising him that he was about to win some prize, but they needed one more payment from him before they could ship him his prize. It was heartbreaking and informative.
Like me, perhaps you or a loved one has already received the telephone call with the tearful stories about the police officers that had to buy their own bulletproof vests, or veterans in VA hospitals that had to share toiletries? If you haven’t received this type of phone call, you’re probably not on the list of fixed income seniors who have managed to have their names picked up by unscrupulous telemarketers that hustle and scam our most vulnerable population.
Oh, the charities may actually exist, but the problem, such as the one reported in Wisconsin, is that 500,000 donors from around the country heard these terrible sob stories, and gladly donated $10-million – but of the $10-million collected, only $35,000 went to those poor military veterans that the telemarketers said so badly needed the financial assistance. More than $9.95 million went to the scam ring operators. Now that’s one heck of a return on their investment, and a disaster for both the veterans who were used, and the seniors who were ripped off.
The charity names that seem to stir the greatest emotional appeal among the public and particularly our aging population include names like: Coalition of Police & Sheriffs, Veteran’s Assistance Council and Disabled Firefighters Fund. Those names aren’t accidentally selected; they have been proven to generate the most sympathy. Police, fire and charities that claim to assist children, particularly in the aftermath of a disaster, and with the current Iraq war, veterans and orphans are hot-button names for bogus charities.
There are more than 1-million charities in this country. Most are legitimate, but about 33% are not. In some cases, they have successfully gotten seniors to give their bank account numbers to them, and multiple withdrawals have been made directly from those accounts. In one recent scam run in south Florida, over $5-million was collected, with about $110,000 going to the actual charity, and the rest going to the scam operators to line their pockets. So, what can you do?
Protect yourself and your loved ones. Pay attention to what your parents are doing, and to whom they are writing checks. Never give a credit card or bank account number over the phone UNLESS you initiated the call. As for printed material received in the mail, don’t assume it’s legitimate. Do NOT respond to e-mail solicitations, as look alike and sound-alike names are often used to fool people into donating.
To verify legitimate charities, if you have a computer, go to www.charitynavigtor.org or www.guidestar.org to verify that the charity you’re donating toward is legitimate. The better charities donate at least 75% of what they collect and keep administrative overheads to no more than 25%. If you think you’re being scammed or if you doubt the legitimacy of a charity, contact the State Attorney General’s office to report it.