Senior citizens at greater risk of being scammed

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COLUMBIA - Every year, con artistis specifically target senior citizens, according to new information from the Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau and Secretary of State Jason Kander's office.

It is estimated that more than 70 percent of the wealth of the United States is held by individuals over the age of 55 - making seniors a prime target for schemes and ultimately fraud. 

A group of Mid-Missouri postal workers presented a seminar regarding consumer scams that specifically target senior citizens. Missouri Director of Investor Education Garrett Webb facilitated the discussion.

"Our office recieves hundreds of calls and complaints each year from senior investors who have been approached by someone purporting to offer an 'investment opportunity' through the mail, email, over the phone, or even at their front door," said Webb, "There's no one size fits all answer to what exactly to watch out for but we always encourage people to never agree to an investment without calling our office first to ensure the person and product being sold are properly registered."

Webb also warned attendees about grandparent frauds. These occur when scam artists target the elderly, usually by phone, pretending to be a grandchild in need of money. Webb said the best advice he gives to avoid a grandparent fraud is to stop and think before agreeing to send money to anyone. Scam artists will often use vague details about you or your family to try and confuse you, "It's best to hang up and call local law enforcement to report the incident rather than to fall victim to a fraud."

Cheryl Hudson of the Central Missouri Postal Customer Council said the event was important to them because their customers are affected by scams. "They could be our mother, our father, our brother and sister and neighbor . So we want to get the word out to our postal customers, that yes this is apparent and it's happening every day."

Regional Director of the Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau Mike Harrison, said education via seminars and media alerts are essential to helping not just seniors, but all age groups, to try and avoid scams.

"There are so many different variations of scams. Unsolicited phone calls and emails, being asked for personal or banking information, asking for money via wire transfer, these are just a few examples of things to look out for," said Harrison.

Harrison explained that senior citizens are more likely to be the targets of certain scams because they tend to be more trusting and polite, so it is difficult for them to say no.

"Seniors are often thought to have significant amounts of money in their accounts," said Harrison, "And some of these scams promise health benefits, which can also be appealing to seniors."

Webb also said that seniors can sometimes be less informed about scams in their area.

"In the fast-changing world of technology, it's easy for our parents, grandparents and senior loved ones to feel left out or fall behind the high-speed information curve younger people are accustomed to," he said.

Additionally, Webb said seniors are often home during the day when scam artists may use over the phone or door-to-door sales techniques to gather information and solicit the senior to invest or buy something.

According to Webb, some tell-tale signs of a scam are extremely high promises of return with little or no explanation of how the investment works, the salesperson using fear or aggression to convince an investor to purchase the product, and not receiving promised information such as account statements or a return. "If something simply sounds too good to be true, it probably is."