Pam Rainey: Seniors must remain vigilant

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Afeeling of nostalgia swept over me as I pulled into the driveway of the inviting cottage with the red door. The pristine lawn was perfectly manicured and the setting reminded me of lilacs and wisteria.

Some would say the house had great “street appeal.” I differ. It said “welcome home” to me.

The owners of the home met me at the door and were “as sweet as pie,” and commenting I was “right on time” for our 2 p.m. appointment. My new friends offered me a glass of sweet iced tea and easy conversation.

In spite of their mature age, they were newlyweds. The sparkle in their eyes was one giveaway of their romance. I learned they both lost their longtime spouses had become reacquainted at a class reunion, but it didn’t take long for them to decide that an Internet romance wasn’t working for them. Denton was now home and in closest proximity to their newly combined family.

However, just as quickly as I had learned my new acquaintances were kind and welcoming, I learned they were also money-wise. The updates they had made to their home were not just for comfort or aesthetics. They had made practical updates such as their windows to save on utility bills. There simply wasn’t anything I could professionally recommend that that they had not thought of. It didn’t appear to me they spent any money without thinking it through.

But something was troubling them. They gave me permission to share their story.

A few weeks before my visit, they had received a phone call from someone they did not know. The caller offered to provide them information about the “new rules of Medicare.” The wife told the caller it was dinnertime and she did not need any information over the phone. But the caller went on and on. “What is it you do not understand about no,” she asked. She then hung up the phone.

The plot thickens.

The very next evening a well-dressed, well-spoken man appeared at their door calling them by name. He claimed to have an appointment with them at 7 p.m. Long story short, she did let the charmer in, and before the night was over, he had talked both of them into purchasing long-term care insurance and had a check in his hand for the first month’s payment.

“We are not stupid people. What happened?” they both said in unison after the stranger left.

The next morning, the couple called the company from where the “representative” came. Their money was refunded.

Not all situations like this have a happy ending. And, as invulnerable as we all think we are, we never really know how we will handle a person who is sly, well spoken and has practiced a “script” to deceive people.

A very informative website, www.caregiverstress.com, offered some valuable information for victims who feel they might have been or will be taken advantage of.

“The biggest reason seniors are chosen as victims is the likelihood that they will be too embarrassed in the event of a crime to ever report it,” according to the site.

Here are some scams we can all look out for, but seniors should be cautious.

Even when you think you can trust someone, let your gut be your guide.

Scam artists often convince their victims to give out valuable information such as their credit card or Social Security number over the phone.

Identify theft is not just a problem within the senior community, and grows because of the use of technology.

Con artists pose as charity representatives. Give to agencies you know of, work with and trust. A lot of seniors choose to give to charity through their churches, where they often know the elders who are stewards of mission money and giving.

Here are some ways to protect yourself or your loved ones from a scam.

Trust your feelings. Just say “no” and mean it. Call a neighbor or a relative if someone shows up at your door, or better yet, dial 911. Tell the person at the door to “buzz off.”

Also, the following will help.

Register yourself on the National Do Not Call Registry. Tech-savvy seniors can visit www.donotcall.gov and follow the instructions. Seniors who are phobic of computers should enlist family or friends to guide them through it.

Shred all important documents. Tear them up by hand and dump them in your recycling bin, or better yet, purchase an inexpensive shredder at your local office supply store, shred the documents yourself, and then recycle them or use the shredded paper for packages that need cushioning before being mailed. There are shredding services in Denton that can drive to your home or office, shred your documents on site and discard them.

Post “No Solicitating” signs at the front door.

Be skeptical of those e-mail forwards. If you get a panicked e-mail from a friend claiming that he or she is stranded overseas (or out of town) begging you to wire money, click “delete” and call your friend. Scam artists can infiltrate e-mail accounts and send “help” messages to everyone on the account’s contact list.

Most importantly, if you are the victim of a scam, con artist or a pushy sales person, call the police. Don’t feel foolish. Anyone can become a victim. Just because you are at a place you once thought was safe, such as a church, synagogue or other house of worship, as shameful as it is to be said, be careful.

Stay watchful, and as sad as it seems, keep your eyes open and make your own decisions about giving your money. Report unethical behavior — it’s the best way to keep scam artists from preying on others.

PAM RAINEY is a longtime Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. You can reach her with suggestions at rpmrny@cs.com  or 940-367-1188.

 


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