I read with interest a September 26, 2008, article in The Buffalo News, about an 88 year old area widow who had been bilked out of close to $80,000.00 for home improvements that were never done and were done in a shoddy fashion. My first thought was how overwhelming sad it was that in a “City of Good Neighbors” that such a thing would even occur. Not only had it occurred, but the poor woman had paid the gentleman over 71 payments that totaled the $80,000.00. Eventually, the culprit was arraigned in the Town of Cheektowaga Court, and if convicted he could face up to 15 years in prison.
I began thinking of some of the advice that we try to give our elderly clients, and especially the advice that we impart when we present seminars informing folks on how to avoid fraud, especially with respect to our senior citizens, who sadly appear to be the victims of unscrupulous individuals.
The first piece of advice that I give individuals is to simply be aware. Strangers may appear friendly, good natured and helpful, but the reality of life is that we need to be wary so that an individual’s trust is not turned against them. If someone is simply aware that there is a possibility that fraud may occur or that a well-meaning person may in fact intend to take advantage of us, we would all act a little bit more cautiously and carefully. The second most important piece of advice I give individuals is to always stay connected to a family member, trusted friend, clergy member or other advisor so that if there is some situation where a person feels uncomfortable, they can always turn to that trusted family member or friend, etc. for advice and direction. Sometimes people are simply ashamed to let people in their lives know that they have perhaps been victims and that somehow their family members or friends would consider them foolish or gullible. People have to learn to reach out to loved and trusted ones in order to get advice, seek protection and if nothing else, to have a second opinion in situations that may involve fraud or potential fraud.
Aside from these two rather significant pieces of advice, some of the other things that I would suggest include the following:
- Have responses prepared for solicitors or charities before they call. If they call on the telephone, don’t be afraid to hang up and beware of any callers who ask for money or immediate decisions.
- Do not do business with door-to-door contractors or sales people. Try to get three written bids before contracting for any home improvement, and do not make final payment until you know that all suppliers have been paid and that you are satisfied with the work that has been done. Get help if you need it, such as researching a charity or a home repair contractor.
- Try to avoid dropping your name in sweepstakes or give-a-ways. This information may be used to solicit you for other purposes in the future.
- Request a free copy of your credit report every year by calling 877-322-8228, or going online at www.annualcreditreport.com. Check your credit report for any unusual activity, and if there is any activity that does not belong to you, report it immediately.
- Never respond to high pressure tactics or someone who is unwilling to allow you to obtain the opinion of another person or who refuses your request for written information for situations such as investment or financial planning.
Again, what happened to the elderly woman as reported in The Buffalo News should never happen, but unfortunately it does. Some simple tips such as the ones above can help avoid such things from happening in the future. Please pass them along.