Fraud prevention workshop focuses on seniors

06/02/09 Seán Kinane
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As the economy sinks deeper into recession, fraud against citizens remains a concern. For that reason, the Federal Trade Commission and the office of Sen. Mel Martinez held a fraud prevention workshop this morning at the new Town 'N Country Senior Center.

Claudene Hicks, 80, was a victim of telemarketing fraud which added charges to her phone bill. But she was able to clear up the matter by going to a consumer protection agency.

“I kept getting this bill and I knew I had not applied for this particular service. And when I went in to investigate they told me they had been preying on seniors, because they knew they wouldn’t, you know, check their telephone [bill] for anything unusual. But I saw this and I knew.”

In the fraud prevention workshop, Hicks and about 50 others heard from federal, state, and local agencies about the latest fraud scams and how to avoid them.

Doug Templeton, with the Pinellas County Department of Justice & Consumer Services, says that one-third of all telemarketing fraud victims are 60 or older.

Templeton’s counterpart across the Bay, Kevin Jackson with the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency, shared his tips to avoid rip-offs by contractors, including never paying for a job before the work is done.

Fraud is a crime of opportunity, according to the regional director of the Federal Trade Commission, Brad Elbein. He said debt relief and mortgage foreclosure relief frauds are popular this year.

Sherri Lanham, with the Tampa Field Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, suggests requesting three credit reports per year. Lanham provides tips to avoid current scam trends.

Rebecca Morgan is the director of the Center for Excellence in Elder Law at Stetson University’s College of Law in Gulfport. She says that it’s very important for people to be informed about scams and how to protect themselves.

After the program, staff from Martinez's office assisted residents with information about avoiding fraud.

A man from Manatee County who wants to remain anonymous says he is a victim of identity theft resulting in unauthorized charges to his bank account. He suggests speaking with your bank to find out what security measures they recommend including password protecting account information.

Federal Trade Commission – 1-877-382-4357

Pinellas Consumer Protection

Pinellas Department of Justice & Consumer Services – 727-464-6200

Hillsborough County Consumer Protection and Professional Responsibility Agency – 813-903-3430

Stetson University College of Law - Center for Excellence in Elder Law

Stetson’s Elder Consumer Protection Program

United States Postal Inspection Service – 1-877-876-2455

Site to request a free credit file disclosure once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies

Mel Martinez – 866-630-7106

Florida Attorney General – 813-287-7950

FTC’s ID theft site – 1-877-438-4338

FTC’s Money Matters site

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