Does your elderly loved one receive a lot of mail – particularly junk mail? This may be a sign that he or she has fallen victim to scammers and identity thieves. C. Steven Baker, Federal Trade Commission Director of the Midwest Region says, “Scammers around the world send out tons of mail. People who get lots of mail every day may have run afoul of one of several different types of fraud. They may be losing lots of money in small amounts, and may be opening themselves up to bigger dollars scams.”
What are the most common scams?
Sweepstakes & Lotteries: A sweepstakes or lottery scam often looks legitimate. Letters come with seals, signatures and official looking return addresses. Huge prize amounts or items are featured prominently in the mailing. “Winners” are asked to send in a small amount of money compared to the prize value to cover shipping & handling, taxes, or other fees. Usually, a pre-addressed envelope is included for the return of these “fees.” Once a victim sends money, their name goes into a list of “suckers” and they will receive even more “winning” notices asking for even more money. These lists are often sold to other mail and telemarketing scammers. Victims who send checks or provide credit card information are also subject to identity theft. NO ONE EVER WINS MONEY OR PRIZES IN THESE SCAMS!
Charities: Many charities do great work. However, some are little more than scams with very little or no money going to the “charitable” work advertised in their mailers. The Federal Trade Commission and the various states’ Attorneys General have shut down numerous fraudulent charities that have taken millions of dollars from consumers and done no charitable work. The best way to give to charity is through a local organization with whom you are familiar and can verify the work being done in your community. If you have questions about a charity, the Better Business Bureau rates charities. The Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Affairs’ Gift Givers Guide lists registered charities with financial information so consumers can verify a charity before making a contribution.
Tax Scams: Taxpayers should be aware of many tax scams, including phone calls, emails and mail indicating the IRS wants your loved one to pay taxes or may have a refund for them. If your loved one receives a phone call or an email from someone purporting to be from the IRS, this is a scam. The IRS will send a letter regarding any taxes and whether or not your loved one owes money or is receiving a refund. If your loved one receives a letter that purports to be from the IRS, take it to an accountant or lawyer immediately, particularly if your loved one is an elderly taxpayer not required to pay taxes because his or her income is below a certain amount. Call the IRS directly and not the number located on the letter. The IRS can verify whether your loved one was sent a letter and whether what they received is part of a scam. For more information about tax scams and frauds, visit the IRS website.
How can you find out if something is a scam? Check!
The Federal Trade Commission has an extensive list of national scams. From fraudulent charities to sweepstakes to travel scams, they are all here. This list includes actions taken across the nation to stop these scams, as well as tips for avoiding them.
If your loved one is a victim of a Federal Mail Fraud (which includes fraud done through the mail), contact the US Postal Inspection Service at (877) 876-2455. Complain to the FTC at 877-FTC-HELP or go to www.ftc.gov.
Florida also has a comprehensive list of scams that affect its citizens. Florida’s Little Black Book of Scams compiles common scams targeting Floridians. If your loved one is a victim of a scam in Florida, contact the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) – Florida only, or outside of Florida call (850) 410-3800.
Twyla Sketchley speaks frequently to community groups and organizations regarding identity theft and other scams targeting the elderly. Contact our office at (850) 894-1052 to schedule a presentation to your organization.