Fraud prevention: keeping your savings and identity safe

Because many older adults own their homes outright, have retirement savings, and were taught by their parents to be trusting and polite, they are often targeted by unscrupulous people looking for easy money. According to the FBI, “con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say no.”

Common scams targeted at seniors include miracle cures, sweepstakes prizes, health surveys, foreclosure rescue and investment offers. According to the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), “con artists are smart, extremely persuasive and aggressive, and present themselves as well mannered, friendly and helpful. They purposely devise complex offers that confuse their targets.”

If a telephone or door-to-door salesperson talks quickly, doesn’t answer your questions, or leaves you confused about the details of the offer, something is probably wrong. Tell him or her you’d prefer to think about it and may call them back. Do not let anyone rush you into signing anything. Say you need time to have someone you trust look it over. If it is a legitimate salesperson, he will honor your request. If he insists that you make a decision or sign something right away, he probably does not have your best interest in mind.

The NCPC advises seniors to remember one easy rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. NCPC further advises never to give your credit card, bank account or social security number over the phone, through the mail, over the Internet, by text message or to someone who comes to your door, unless you have initiated the contact. Also, be sure to shred, and not just throw away, any papers that contain this information.

Other advice offered by the NCPC includes not buying health products that claim quick cures, never accepting offers from home repair companies who “just happened to be in the neighborhood,” not wiring money to someone you don’t know, and not paying for something you receive in the mail that you didn’t order. Remember not to carry your social security card with you, and never to write your social security number on a check. 

Monitor your credit activity by ordering your credit report at least twice a year and checking for unusual activity. Be sure to check your monthly bank account and credit card statements carefully.

If you think that you have been the victim of fraud, don’t feel embarrassed to report it. Con artists are very good at what they do, and even the most astute people have been tricked. Report fraud by contacting your local police department and the National Fraud Information Center (NFIC) at the following numbers: Cleveland Heights Police 216-321-1234, University Heights Police 216-932-1800, NFIC 800-876-7060. 

You can order your credit report by calling Trans Union at 877-322-8228, Experian at 888-397-3742 or Equifax at 877-322-8228. Order a report from all three companies, because reports can vary. By law you are entitled to one free report per year from each of these companies. You do not need to purchase a membership or monitoring service.

Judith Eugene

Judith Eugene is a native of Cleveland Heights who provides life-enrichment classes and activities for senior adults and those with physical and mental challenges through She may be reached at 216-408-5578 or

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Volume 6, Issue 11, Posted 11:58 AM, 10.31.2013