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Be aware of senior telemarketing scams

I think you’re old at about 30 because that’s when people start to look gross.— Sergio, age 9

My client called in tears.  She had received a check in the mail for $3,000.  It looked very legitimate, and was made out to her.  She was convinced God had answered her prayers about money problems.  Over the objections of her children, she took the check to the bank and deposited it.

Then, the check bounced.  Not only did she owe fees for one returned check, but her own checks that had been written based on that extra money had also bounced.  Lastly, the scammer also had her banking information.

Well, maybe it should be obvious.  Like your parents taught you:  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you receive an unexpected check from a lottery you never entered or a loan you never applied for, it’s probably not worth the paper it’s printed on.  Sadly, these creeps target senior citizens, who are vulnerable and often no longer able to make the prudent decisions that they once made.

Last spring, AARP published an article in its monthly bulletin saying the fake check scams are thriving, accounting for nearly a third of all complaints to the National Consumers League.

Usually, it works like this:  You’re instructed to deposit the check and then forward some portion of the deposit elsewhere, typically by wire transfer, as advance fees that will allow you to collect a jackpot.  These fees may be small, often as little as $20.

By the time your bank discovers the check is fake, which can take two weeks, the scammers have gotten their forwarded loot ($20 each from how many persons?) and you’re on the hook for funds drawn from the deposit.

Spotting a fake check can be tricky.  AARP offered some tip-offs to the rip-offs:

  1.  Edges.  Most legit checks have at least one perforated or rough edge.  If all edges are smooth, the check may have been printed from a computer.
  2. Bank logo:  A fake check often has no bank logo or has one that’s very faded, suggesting it was copied from an online photo or software.
  3. Bank Address:  No street address, just a P.O. box or a wrong ZIP code – which you can check by contacting the issuing bank – may indicate a fake check.
  4. Check Number:  If there’s no check number at the upper right-hand corner, or the number doesn’t match the check number in the bottom MICR line, you’ve got a counterfeit.
  5. Amount:  Usually it’s less than $5,000 because federal rules require that deposits of that size be made available to you within five days.  This can trick you into thinking that the check has cleared.  Deposits of $5,000 or more are subject to longer holding periods.
  6. Paper:  Fake checks are often lighter than the paper stock used for authentic checks.  They also may feel slippery.
  7. Signature:  Stains or gaps around signatures, a digitized appearance, or many up and down pen strokes indicate the payer’s John Hancock was printed from a scanned original or was forged.
  8. MICR line:  The bottom of every real check has a series of digits in an unusual font, representing the bank routing number, the account number and the check number, generally in that order.  That special font is known as MICR, which stands for magnetic ink character recognition.  These numbers can be read by specialized check-sorting machines.  Real magnetic ink looks and feels dull to the touch.  Fake MICR numbers are often shiny.
  9. Routing Number:  Typically, the first nine digits of the MICR line make up the routing number, which identifies which bank issued the check.  A check with no routing number or with fewer – or more – than nine digits is clearly a fake.  You can verify routing numbers by going to www.fededirectory.frb.org/reserve.cfm.

While on the subject of expensive and aggravating scams, here’s a reminder that you can

block telemarketing calls using the National Do Not Call Registry.  This program allows

consumers to register their phone numbers and be placed on a national list of numbers that

telemarketing companies are not allowed to call.  To register by phone call 1-888-382-1222 or

register online at www.donotcall.gov.  On the web site, you can also verify whether your number

is already listed.  Due to changes in the law in February of 2008, once you register for this list,

you will remain on it permanently.  You do not have to re-register.

When you receive a telemarketing call, say “Put me on your ‘do not call’ list.”  The federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 requires companies to keep this list.  Your request must be honored for 10 years.  However, nonprofit organizations do not have to comply with this law.

For junk mail, you can register with the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service.  How to do that, along with much more information, can be found on the DMA’s web site:  DMAchoice.org.  If you don’t have a computer, you can write to them.  Send your name and address to:  DMA Mail Preference Service, P. O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.

Thank you for reading.  Stay well.  See you next week.

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