Seniors get the skinny on scams

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 1, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Earle Smith knows too well how scammers can take advantage of senior adults.
She said her late husband lost more than $50,000 by sending money across the country and overseas. He was convinced until the day he died, she said, that he would be getting prize money in return.
Now, five years later, Smith still gets calls from people telling her that the winnings are hers — but she has to pay first.
“You do not buy money,” she said.
Smith attended a “Scam Jam” Wednesday, a seminar hosted by Rufty-Holmes Senior Center to inform senior adults about fraud and scams like these.
The four-hour seminar featured several presenters from state and local agencies. They told about 120 senior adults how to prevent investment fraud, identity theft, Medicare fraud, Social Security fraud, gift giving and charity fraud and local scams.
Salisbury Police Detective Brent Hall spoke to seniors about common scams and fraud he’s seen in Rowan County.
Seniors are the top target of con artists because they often have money saved up in a nest egg, Hall said.
In addition, he said, older adults are less likely to report fraud, and some may not remember the details if they do.
“Also, people who grew up in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s were generally raised to be trusting,” Hall said. “If somebody needs help, they’re going to say ‘Yes, I’ll help you. Let me give you some money.’ ”
He said one man went around to people’s houses saying he needed money to take a bus and see his sick daughter in South Carolina.
“This guy got hundreds of dollars from people,” Hall said. “He never had a daughter, he’s never been to South Carolina and he’s lived here all his life.”
He said other con artists will offer to do yard work, roof repairs or other services, ask for payment in advance and then take the money without doing any work.
“Make sure that the service is done first before they give you a bill, and then pay for it,” Hall said.
Telemarketing scams often pressure people to buy something immediately, give their credit card or bank information or pay to claim a prize, Hall said.
“Always take your time to make a decision, don’t do anything on the spur of the moment… and don’t pay for free prizes,” he said.
Sweepstakes scams often try some of the same tactics, he said. A letter or email may claim the recipient has won a lottery and must deposit a check, provide bank account information or pay a fee in order to get their winnings.
Hall said a real lottery will not have the winner’s name or information until the prize is claimed, and it will not require bank information or payments.
A sweepstakes winnings notice is likely a scam if the recipient doesn’t remember entering the contest.
The “Scam Jam” was sponsored by Rufty-Holmes, AARP-NC, the Salisbury/Rowan AARP Chapter and the Rowan County Council on Aging.
Jerry Shelby, an AARP volunteer, said this is the first such event in Rowan County and another one may be held in a year or two.
“We worked five years to get this one,” Shelby said. “It turned out great… I’m very happy.”
At the end of the seminar, Smith said she tried to educate her husband about scams and even got a detective to speak with him, but he was set in his ways.
She said she once tried to stop another senior at the post office from sending money to a con artist, but the woman did it anyway.
Smith urged people in the audience to get advice from a younger person if they can’t easily spot a scam.
“This has been very informative and educational for us,” Smith told the audience. “But as seniors, we must listen. … Please listen.”
For more information or to report a scam, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or visit

Prevention Tips

• Your bank will never email or call you for your account number.
• Don’t wire money to people you don’t know.
• Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S. You can’t win no matter what they say.
• Be cautious of work-at-home job offers. There are no legitimate jobs that involve reshipping items or financial instruments from your home.
• Check out unfamiliar companies with the Better Business Bureau.
• Check your monthly bank statements for charges you don’t recognize.
• Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus once a year from
Source: U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Federal Trade Commission
Charity Fraud
• Do not give cash; make your contributions by check payable to the charity, not to the individual collecting the donation; keep records of your donations.
• Don’t be fooled by names that look impressive or that closely resemble the name of a well-known organization.
•  Check out the organization with the Better Business Bureay,, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance,
Source: Better Business Bureau
Health Care Fraud
• Treat your Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security numbers like a credit card number. Never give these numbers to a stranger.
• Remember, Medicare doesn’t call or visit to sell you anything.
• Don’t carry your Medicare or Medicaid card unless you will need it. Only take it to doctor’s appointments, visits to your hospital or clinic, or trips to the pharmacy.
• Always review your Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) and Part D Explanation of Benefits (EOB) for mistakes. If you have questions, call your provider or plan first.
• If you need more help with the information on your MSN or EOB, you can call the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) at 1-800-443-9354.
Source: North Carolina SMP