By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
In tough economic times, seniors are learning to be more careful than ever with their money, but that doesn’t stop the crooks from trying to scam them out of it. The scammers’ schemes have evolved with technology, allowing them to steal identities and tap into bank accounts, credit cards and debit cards with a few keystrokes. Seniors, of course, aren’t the only group affected, but thieves often target them because of their perceived vulnerability.
At the Elder Summit held at the Madison Senior Center Tuesday, May 31, Charles T. Corley, Interim Secretary of the Department of Elder Affairs, welcomed everyone and opened the panel discussion topic: “Consumer Protection – Economic and Consumer Fraud.” The discussion was moderated by Keith Bowers, Interim Director, FAMU Small Business Development Center.
Mary Ann Sanders, Branch Manager for Bank of America in Madison, suggested that one way seniors could cut down on the amount of telemarketing calls they receive is to spend five dollars and get on the state’s “Do Not Call” list. Of course, they should never give out credit card information over the phone unless they initiated the call; that goes double for debit cards.
Secretary Corley then added that he himself had been victimized by debit card fraud shortly after dining out during a trip to Atlanta. A few days later, his bank called him about several strange charges on his debit card. “I felt like a fool until the bank manager said it had happened to him, too,” he said.
The key, he added, is never allowing that card out of your sight. Corley had assumed that thieves needed high-tech equipment to scan information on a card, when in fact, all they need to do is snap a photo of the card with a camera phone and they’re good to go.
Use a card only when you can watch the person making the transaction, said Corley. Otherwise, use cash. And never let a friend borrow a debit card to pay a cell phone bill even if the friend reimburses in cash, because the information that connects that debit card account with the cell phone account is stored for 60 days. If the cell phone account goes delinquent again in those 60 days, it will be automatically charged to the debit card used to pay it previously.
Other topics of discussion included the safety online banking. Sanders stated that the key was to “find a bank that will back you up. If you didn’t make the charges, you don’t pay.” Also, “check all your bank statements, even if you didn’t do any banking that month…that doesn’t mean somebody else didn’t.” Check out even the small five and ten dollar charges that are unfamiliar, because “crooks sometimes test the waters with small amounts to see what they can get away with.”
Allison Bryant, Statewide Elder Abuse Prevention Coordinator, closed the discussion with the announcement of “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day” June 15, a day when people are being urged to wear purple to call attention to the issue. One of the forms elder abuse takes is financial abuse, said Bryant, and 90 percent of the time the perpetrators are family members.
Also, elders should not fear being removed to a facility if they call the Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (962-2873) for help, because the goal is keep elders living safely in their own communities for as long as possible and prevent the abuse.
Education, she said, is the key to prevention.