METRO DETROIT — Senior citizens are a favorite target for many scammers, and they have plenty to watch out for both from criminals and from unscrupulous businesses who seek to take advantage of them.
There are options for those who think they have encountered someone attempting to take their money. The AARP Fraud Watch Network is one such option.
“We get a lot of phone calls at the fraud team from people concerned that they have been scammed, and we take reports all day long and send them to government agencies after taking a description of what has happened to them and getting some basic information from them, and we do not take any confidential information,” said Mark Hornbeck, the associate state director for communications for the AARP Detroit office. “For fraud victims, fraud specialists will walk victims through an actionable plan for monitoring their identity and credit and how to move forward.”
The AARP Fraud Watch Network can be reached by calling (877) 908-3360.
Hornbeck said the COVID-19 crisis has led to an increase in some types of fraud.
“We’re seeing an uptick in unemployment scams and medical supplement scams with COVID-19 getting people worried and putting them out of work,” he explained. “Additionally, Social Security, Medicare and tax scams are always a concern, but when the scammer can add that COVID spin, it seems to add to their pitch and give it more realism and timeliness.”
He added that scams preying on people’s desires to protect themselves and their families can be very effective, since people are concerned for their safety.
“Some of this includes masks that are ordered but never delivered, vaccines that supposedly cure COVID but don’t exist or testing equipment that doesn’t work,” Hornbeck said. “Home testing kits and vaccines for COVID don’t exist, so don’t pay for them.”
The Michigan Attorney General Consumer Protection Division is another option for those wishing to report someone trying to take advantage of them financially.
“We’ve focused a lot on price gouging lately with COVID-19 (in recent months),” said Attorney General Press Secretary Ryan Jarvi. “Earlier on this year, there was a lot going on with face masks and hand sanitizers that people were trying to buy to protect themselves from the virus. It’s still on our radar, but since then we’ve been seeing meat, eggs and milk prices being gouged; toilet paper and cleaning products too.”
Jarvi recommended filing a report as soon as possible. He also warned that there are some businesses that will use unscrupulous business practices that will target seniors dealing with memory issues or other health problems that can make them easier to take advantage of.
“For any resident, and senior citizens in general, we recommend reporting it so we can take additional action if necessary. After receiving a complaint, we review it, we assign investigators to it, they reach out to business owners and the individuals who filed reports and then go through the courts if possible,” he said. “The best way to make a complaint is through our website: mi.gov/agcomplaints. Our consumer protection hotline is also available, but we try to do it by email since we can get more thorough information. It’s (877) 765-8388. It’s open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.”
Hornbeck said that some of the best advice he can give to people to avoid these scams is to always be on alert when talking to someone they don’t personally know.
“A lot of our advice is the same as other scams. Don’t believe calls or emails that say you have to act now, call back a company at its legitimate number to double check that the person you’ve been talking to is for real, and don’t give away any personal or financial information over the phone,” he said.
Hornbeck added that during the COVID-19 crisis and long after, senior citizens need to be aware that there are many unscrupulous individuals out there who will try everything in their power to use them.
“Always check to make sure a business is legitimate before paying for anything or buying anything,” he remarked. “Check out their website and be skeptical. These people will say or do anything to separate older adults from their money. It’s disgusting.”
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