Seniors get wise to crooks

Published 8:05 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In the jungle of information, how can you be sure that you are protected from fraud? Local senior citizens learned a few tips and tricks Wednesday at a special course called “Don’t Be Fooled.”

The course, sponsored by Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging (M4A), featured three guest speakers and useful information.

Chief Deputy Shane Mayfield of the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department spoke in place of Sheriff Kevin Davis, who was unable to attend due to a family emergency. Mayfield said investigative units are growing nationwide due to an increase in the number of fraud cases.

“The moral of the story is, we can’t trust people anymore, and it’s unfortunate,” he said. “That’s what our society has come to.”

In a recent case, someone opened an account with a stolen credit card number. The account was traced to Singapore, Mayfield said, urging seniors never to give out their credit card number unless absolutely necessary.

“Once a thief gets your identification, thieves are like wolves. They travel in packs,” he said.

Another tip is to never give out one’s Social Security number over the telephone. If the number must be given, it should be done in person.

Mail offers promising seemingly great deals should be disregarded, he added, repeating the adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”

A recent concern involves fly-by-night scammers going door to door asking money up front for special offers. There have also been forceful salespeople trying to talk their way into people’s homes.

While the company may be legitimate, Mayfield advised against opening the door.

“These people are not the kind of people you want to invite into your home,” he said.

Sharon Gilbert of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System spoke on identity theft, outlining several different types of the crime:

Phishing is when crooks call or e-mail you posing as legitimate institutions requesting personal information. Reputable agencies do not make such calls.

Skimming is when criminals install devices at gas pumps that record your credit or debit card number when scanned at the pump. It is advised that people pay inside.

Fake check scams promise large sums of prize money but require a “tax” or other payment up front.

Telemarketers may be somewhat avoided by registering with the national Do Not Call number at 1-888-DONOTCALL or 1-888-382-1222.

Finally, attorney Jan Neal provided the group information on preventing Medicare and Medicaid fraud.

For more information, call M4A at (205) 670-5770 or the extension at 280-6268.