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This Christmas season, be wary of scams

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Unfortunately, the season of giving also presents an opportunity for less savory types to take advantage of those who may have let down their guard.


For the most part, the Christmas season brings out the best in people. It is a time that encourages generosity, hospitality and kindness to others. Unfortunately, the season of giving also presents an opportunity for less savory types to take advantage of those who may have let down their guard.

AARP has recently published a guide outlining the most recent, commonly reported scams targeting older adults. Even the most basic familiarity with these scams will help ensure that you don't become a target this holiday season.

Online shopping, fake holiday discounts

Scammers are now creating websites that appear to be from well-known retailers. The scammers typically send links to their websites via email or through social media, advertising popular items at amazingly discounted prices. If you encounter "offers" like this in your email, AARP suggests searching the name of the retailer along with the word "scam." For example, search using the words "Target scam" to see if a recent scam involving fake offers from Target was reported. Never click on a link sent to you in an unsolicited email unless you are sure it is from a legitimate business. When making a purchase on any website, look for a customer service number, return policy and other ways to contact the company with concerns.

Fake charities

Scammers will make phone calls or send emails claiming to be from legitimate charities. The email will prompt you to click on a link and provide personal information. Treat such solicitations with skepticism, especially those from charities claiming to benefit fire fighters, veterans and police officers. You can check the legitimacy of a charity online, by visiting www.charitynavigator.org or by contacting the Better Business Bureau at 703-276-0100. If you receive a call pressuring you to make a donation immediately, get as much information from the caller as you can and say you will make a decision later. Never give any personal information out over the phone.

'Free prize'

This highly common class of scams includes free prize offers, vacation bargains, foreign lottery tickets or inexpensive health care products. Whatever the "bargain," you will be prompted to send in a payment or private information of some kind to officially claim your prize. Sometimes a fake check is included in the mailing. If you try to deposit it at the bank it will bounce within a few days.

The Grandparent Scam

A scammer calls or emails, claiming to be your grandchild. The caller will claim to be in trouble and in need of immediate financial assistance. Some common lines include "my landlord is demanding rent and I don't have it," or "I'm stuck overseas and need you to wire money to me so I can fly back home." The caller might add, "Please promise not to tell mom or dad, they would be mad at me!" While such calls can be very upsetting, you should treat them with suspicion and try to remain calm. Hang up the phone and contact your grandchild's parents to confirm that there is no emergency.

According to the National Council on Aging, scams that specifically target older adults are now considered the "crime of the 21st century." The fake deals described above have cost older adults at least $2.6 million a year.

Tips for avoiding scams

-- Exercise caution when giving out private information -- this includes anything related to your credit card, bank account, insurance, Medicare or Social Security. Even phone numbers and addresses can be misused by people with bad intent.

-- Never agree to pay for something immediately. If a salesperson calls, learn as much as you can from the caller before providing any private financial information. Learn the organization's name and address; the name and phone number of the salesperson; and the organization's business license number. Even if the telemarketer seems legitimate, say you will be back in touch. Never make a purchase immediately.

Check out the business yourself with the Better Business Bureau or National Fraud Information Center. Subjecting telemarketers to these hurdles is worthwhile and may ultimately save you a significant amount of money.

-- Remember that legitimate businesses rarely call consumers unsolicited. Especially during the holidays, they are much more likely to make use of mass media (television or internet) for advertising.

If you suspect that you have been the target of a scam, you can reach out to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Hotline toll free at 877-908-3360 to speak with a trained volunteer Fraud Fighter. As fraudulent activity reaches its peak over the holidays, Fraud Fighters will be standing by to offer support, counseling and referral services.


Adam Johnson writes for Youville Assisted Living Residences, member of Covenant Health Systems, a Catholic, multi-institutional health and elder care organization serving New England.

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