Florida's elderly are prime targets for fraudsters

04/05/13 Jim Bleyer
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Ever since scam artists first sold swampland to unsuspecting Yankees, Florida has been ground zero for swindlers.

Florida proudly lays claim to world-famous beaches, an inviting climate, and a leisurely lifestyle but the state understandably shies away from a dubious distinction; it’s ranked number one in both fraud and identity theft by the Federal Trade Commission.

Ada Carmona, Chief of the Economic Crime Unit for the Hillsborough County State Attorney, says scammers target the elderly in particular.

"The elderly many times are very trusting and people prey on this. A lot of the times what we see is caretakers, sometimes they may be family members, sometimes they may be neighbors, relatives or friends of the family who are taking care of the elderly. They start borrowing money, taking over the ATM cards, their credit card numbers, their bank accounts. Instead of using it for the benefit of the elderly -- those that they were theoretically trying to assist---they start using those monies for their own benefit."

There’s also a fear factor employed by con artists, according to Deborah Barry, Operations Manager for Pinellas County Justice and Consumer Services.

"We have a large senior population in this area. They are often the target of fraud. An example is water filtration scams where they offer free water tests but the intent is to use scare tactics that the water is unsafe and to convince people to purchase a water filtration unit for several thousand dollars."

Predators also use the guise of Medicare as a means of ripping off retirees. Michael Pierce, is administrator of the Stetson University College of Law Elder Consumer Protection Program.

"Fraudsters are not dumb. They will use services they know the elderly will need to use in their everyday life. So one of the most popular ones we are seeing and that we are seeing nationwide is a new Medicare scam where fraudsters are calling the elderly and saying they work for the government and they need a little more information from the elder to set up a new bank account so that they can direct deposit Medicare benefits into the elder’s bank account. They say a new Medicare card is in the mail but could you please confirm your Social Security number for me so we can set up this new bank account. The senior thinks that this person actually works for the government and turns over their personal information. Well, Medicare has come out and said no way. We do not work that way. It’s a total scam. Do not disclose your personal information over the phone."

Pinellas’ Deborah Barry offers some additional tips for navigating the fraud minefield.

"The time to be wise is before you spend your money. Never, never send money for free gifts. Never wire money to an unknown person. Empower yourself. If the deal sounds not true, back away."

Other useful websites:

Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency

Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas Inc.

Florida Department of Financial Services Fraud and Consumer Protection

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

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