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Betty White Helps Alert Senor Citizens in National Fraud Awareness Campaign
Betty White, multi-Emmy winning actress, joined the nation's Chief Postal Inspector yesterday to warn senior citizens, their families, and their caregivers that older Americans are increasingly becoming the targets of con artists. She will also participate in a satellite media tour to help draw attention to this campaign.
"Fraud complaints are on the rise, and more people aged 60 and over are becoming victims," said Chief Postal Inspector Lee Heath at a national news conference in Washington, DC, to kick off National Fraud Against Senior Citizens Awareness Week. | Inspection Service Home Page |
Postmaster General John E. Potter, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris, and representatives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police joined the Postal Inspection Service news conference.
According to the Alliance Against Fraud in Telemarketing and Electronic Commerce, people 60 years of age and older accounted for 26 percent of telemarketing fraud victims. However, the group showed significantly higher representation in certain categories, such as prizes and sweepstakes, where they accounted for 60 percent of the victims. According to the National Consumers League, illegal telemarketing operations bilk U.S. citizens out of at least $40 billion annually. A significant number of illegal contest and prize scams originate in Canada.
Mail fraud complaints are up 27 percent, according to the Postal Inspection Service. The agency responded to 66,000 mail fraud complaints in 2001, and Postal Inspectors have already responded to more than 68,000 complaints in 2002. Chief Inspector Heath said, "The Inspection Service has shut down 40 illegal telemarketing operations so far this year, a 43 percent increase over last year. We have also stopped 80 deceptive mailing operations, up 40 percent from last year."
In conjunction with Postal Inspection Service fraud prevention efforts, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution, introduced by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Susan Collins (R-ME), designating the week of August 25, 2002, as "National Fraud Against Senior Citizens Awareness Week."
The nationwide campaign warns elderly consumers about fraud through these activities:
· Providing fraud-awareness posters to more than 38,000 post office lobbies.
· Placing half-page newspaper ads in selected metropolitan markets.
· Airing public service announcements featuring Betty White.
· Mailing fraud-awareness information to approximately 3 million households of seniors and their families.
"In uncertain financial times, people are looking for a secure place to invest their retirement money," noted Chief Postal Inspector Heath. "These conditions make it easier for con artists to swindle investors, especially senior citizens, out of their entire life savings."
For example, Inspectors were alerted to the actions of an elderly North Carolina woman, retired after 43 years of teaching, who received numerous telemarketing and mail solicitations. She was enticed into mailing a $94,000 check to a "marketing service" in the Netherlands, which informed her she had won $55 million and must mail $94,000 in fees to release the funds. She sent the check by Express Mail.
Postal Inspectors intercepted the Express Mail piece before it left the country and returned the $94,000 check to the victim. Unfortunately, the woman had already mailed $168,000--which she could sorely afford to lose--before Inspectors learned of the situation.
Many seniors find it hard to tell the difference between legitimate telemarketing calls and scams, but good judgment is the last line of defense against the con artist. Chief Inspector Heath advises elderly citizens to be skeptical of any offer that sounds "too good to be true" and offers these crime prevention tips:
· Take your time. If you are pressured to make a quick decision, provide credit card information, or mail a check, hang up. You're not being rude, you're being wise.
· Don't buy something just because you'll get a free gift.
· Get all information in writing before you agree to buy.
· Check the caller's record with the Better Business Bureau.
· Don't give your credit card or account numbers to anyone unfamiliar without checking them out.· Never send money in response to a foreign lottery. They're illegal.
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