by David Sisler

"When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine? If I'd been out ‘till quarter to three, would you lock the door? Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?"

The bittersweet, big-band nostalgia number "When I'm Sixty-Four" was the first track to be recorded for the Beatles' 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. The first time I heard the song, it was not the original Lennon-McCartney version. My Aunt Veronica, in her native Irish accent, did her own rendition, introducing me to the Lonely Heart's Club Band.

I am thirty years close to 64 than I was then, and the idea of my "lights" going out and "wasting away" are not nearly as humorous as they once were.

A great many people who have already passed the 64-year-old mark have other things to worry about, things with which they should not be troubled at all — consumer fraud, specifically, scams aimed at the elderly.

An estimated 14,000 illegal telemarketing operations bilk thousands of victims every day. As much as $40 billion per year is lost to fraudulent telemarketers. The elderly are scammers primary targets, and the crooks do not care about the pain they cause when they steal an elderly person's life savings. "Three-quarters of all people who report problems with fraud are elderly," says Lois Morton, consumer economist with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Older consumers, especially those living alone, may be lonely and willing to listen to, and trust, persuasive sales pitches. They may be facing difficult circumstances such as home repair problems and serious health issues that make them vulnerable to promises of assistance.

Researchers say seniors tend to trust people who telephone them. They give people the benefit of the doubt. And who does not want to win a valuable prize or strike it rich on an investment? We all want to believe that it is our lucky day, and in the process forget one of the basic rules of life: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Telephone crooks are not the only ones victimizing senior adults.

• A "city inspector" arrives at the home, stating he needs to check the plumbing, furnace, or wiring, and when problems are found, he sends a "friend" to make the repairs. The work is overcharged and done poorly, if at all.

• The older consumer receives newspaper clippings in the mail about a new miracle health product with a "personal" note saying, "Try this! It works!" But when money is sent, the product never arrives, or is overpriced, or is useless, if not just plain harmful.

• A message left on an answering machine asks you to call a number beginning with area code 809 to receive information about a family member who has been ill (or has died, or been arrested, or you are told about a wonderful prize you have won). 809 is a Caribbean area code and one call to these crooks can cost $100.

Investigators have seen at least one new scam: the so-called "recovery call" in which swindled victims' names are sold to other con artists. A telemarketer posing as a lawyer then offers to help the victim recover the stolen money — for a 10 percent fee, and the victim is cruelly defrauded once again.

The National Fraud Information Center (NFIC) advises all of us, and the elderly in particular, to keep several things in mind. Legitimate companies do not pressure people into sending money immediately. It is illegal for contests or sweepstakes to require payment to enter or claim a prize. Legitimate marketers are willing to send written information about the products or services they are selling. Legitimate marketers will give you a telephone number so you can call them back after you have checked out them and their offer.

One of your greatest defenses against a telephone scammer is to just hang up. If the caller keeps talking after you say "no," hang up. If the caller wants money for a prize you are told you have won, hang up. If the caller wants your credit card or bank account number, hang up. If the caller insists you make an immediate financial decision, hang up. If the caller insists on payment in cash only, hang up. If the caller offers to recover money, for a fee, which you previously lost, hang up. If the caller demands you keep the call secret, hang up. If the caller provides no written information, hang up.

God told his people through the prophet Isaiah: "Even when your hair has turned gray, I will take care of you. I made you and will take care of you. I will carry you, and I will save you." Isaiah did not have to defend against the frauds which are perpetrated today. You, or your elderly friends and loved ones do. It may be presumptuous of me to speak for God, but I think he would appreciate your help.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 7/26/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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