Safety for seniors

Mail fraud

Remember, if you have really won a prize, you'd get it absolutely free, with no strings attached.

  • Millions of brightly colored postcards flood the state telling recipients they have won a prize.
  • Indecipherable small print is often used--especially if the company is giving you information it hopes you won't read.
  • Official looking features are used such as: "Award Claim Number: 866-67-746".
  • Official sounding names are used such as: "Audit Central Bureau Disbursement Center" or National Prize Center".
  • An out-of-state address with a P.O. Box mailing address is the only method you have to reach the company.
  • You are told to place a 1-900 number call to collect your "prize." (Remember, you pay for 1-900 calls.)
  • You are told to call a 1-800 number, and you place the free call only to be told you must pay in order to receive additional information.
  • You are asked to disclose your credit card number to prove your identity.
  • Your prize is awarded with strings attached-service fees, delivery charges, or "taxes" are assessed (if you win a prize you should pay nothing).

Shopping by mail

  • If you are unfamiliar with the company, check it out with the Better Business Bureau of the Attorney General's Office in the state where the company is located.
  • Never send cash through the mail.
  • If you receive merchandise which you or a member of your household did not order, you may consider it a gift and not be pressured into returning it or paying for it.

Phone scams

  • A computerized voice message tells you, "You have won a prize."
  • You are asked for your credit card number.
  • To "win" you must send money within a short time (usually 24 or 48 hours).
  • An out-of-state company contacts you. Usually the only way you can reach them is through a P.O. mailing address.
  • No strings (process fees, delivery charges, etc.) should be attached to a prize you have truly "won".

Door-to-door scams

Con artists operating door-to-door target senior because seniors are likely to be home when the doorbell rings. If you are interested in making a purchase from a door-to-door seller, get everything in writing including price, warranties, and all conditions. Tell the seller you'll check it out and get back to them. Be firm. Don't buy on impulse. You can do business on your own terms. Take the time to investigate both the seller and the offer.

Home improvement scams

A common door-to-door scam involves home repair.

  • Workers drive a pick-up truck through a neighborhood and approach people outside their homes.
  • The workers offer to pave your driveway, repair your roof or paint your house with supplies "left over from another job in the neighborhood".
  • They perform shoddy work that is completed very quickly.
  • These workers are usually itinerant sellers with no local connections. (They often drive trucks with out-of-state license plates).
  • They demand cash payment.
  • They refuse to provide references or a warranty.
  • The final price you are asked to pay will be much higher than the initial estimate.

Three day cooling off law

The Three Day Cooling Off Law gives you three business days to cancel a sale made through a home or telephone solicitation when the contract is worth more than $25.

Charitable giving

Know where your money goes.

  • Many charities sound worthy, with names and goals promising cures for cancer, heart disease, and other worthwhile causes.
  • Most charities are honest and put their charitable dollars to good use. However, Americans lose millions of dollars to fraudulent charitable groups each year.

Guidelines for smart giving include:

  • Don't judge a charity solely on its impressive sounding name.
  • Ask how the charitable purpose will be accomplished.
  • Ask how much of your contribution will pay fund-raising and overhead costs.
  • Ask if the person calling is a professional fund raiser and if so, what amount of your money given will actually go to the charity.
  • Ask whether your contribution is tax deductible.
  • Don't be unduly swayed by emotional appeals.
  • Don't be pressured. Ask for written information. If convinced, send a check later.
  • Contribute by check. Cash donations are impossible to trace and difficult for the charity to protect.
  • Check with the Attorney General's Office to determine if the organization is registered. Registration documents will also contain information about the organization.

For more information on charities, contact the Attorney General's Charities Division, 612-297-4613.

Investment fraud

Investment scams have bilked Minnesota seniors of their life savings. A common scam involves a salesperson who contacts you by phone to sell you an "investment opportunity". But, in order for you to get in on this great "deal", the salesperson will tell you he or she needs your money by tomorrow. Don't fall for it! Hanging up is often your best defense.

Scam characteristics

  • Investment fraud usually begins with an unsolicited telephone call from someone you don't know.
  • The caller may represent a "business" selling an "investment opportunity" that is usually located out of state.
  • Phone investments offered include penny stocks, oil and gas leases, precious metals and rare coins.
  • You must send money quickly; overnight delivery services are often hired to pick up payment that same day.
  • Incredible profits are promised-you may hear an offer for a "20 percent annual return".
  • The only contact you have is an out-of-state business with a P.O. Box mailing address.
  • A small first sale may be conducted in order for the seller to gain credibility with you. The seller's goal is to extract larger amount of money in the future.