Help available for retirees targeted in scams

01/26/11 Andrea Lypka
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Senior citizens are often the target financial fraud. But, there are organizations that can help by warning about common scams and assisting after a fraud has occurred.

Stephen Lintner’s mother was a victim of a financial scam.

“Mom used a company for some kind of credit card consolidation that had some problems and it disappeared and things fell apart. I don’t even know the details. She has had some problems with phone calls that turned out to be a scam and she lost a measure of money on” he said.

But Lintner says his mother’s case is being settled, thanks to help she’s getting from the Elder Consumer Protection Program at Stetson University College of Law. The university organized a workshop to help seniors protect themselves against financial exploitation on January 25.

“But the people she talked to knew exactly what to do, were ready to help her, didn’t have a whole pile of charges in fees, and gave her personal promises of assistance and that was great, that took a ton of worry off of her,” he said.

The workshop included exhibitor booths with representatives from consumer agencies and do-not-call registration kiosks. Deputy Dawn Straub from the Manatee County Sheriff’s office says that is very important for elderly people to protect their homes.

“Your house sends a message. Does it send a message that you got security, that you got a dog? Make sure that your alarm sign is on the front lawn. If you put it by the door it is already too late,” she said.

Linda Smart an outreach with the state Department of Financial Services says that about 800 elderly consumers filed complaints against fraudulent activities in the Tampa Bay Area, and most of them got help.

“We also have the authority to revoke someone’s license if we find that there is criminal activity on behalf of that constituent. … We just need our consumer to come forward and let us know that they have been victimized,” she said.

Americans are targeted by many types of financial crime. Deborah Brown, an investigator with the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency, says as technology advances, scams get more sophisticated. About 1.3 million Americans have lost about 2 to 3 thousand dollars to a fake check scam, she said.

Stetson’s elder consumer protection fellow, Slade Dukes, says the program has helped many seniors in Florida since 2004.

“Last year alone we gave over 90 speeches and we given out 4,000 brochures, educational materials and videos. We have contacted and spoke to an estimated 1,600 consumers and we conducted over 150 consumer inquires,” he said.

The next Elder Consumer Law Day event is on March 22 from 9:30 a.m.

Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency

Florida Department of Financial Services

Elder consumer services

Elder Consumer Law Day events

WMNF coverage of another elder fraud workshop

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