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REGION Moneymaking schemes often target the elderly



Published: Mon, July 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Be careful whom you give personal information to, warns a local Better Business Bureau official.

By SEAN BARRON

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- You are automatically eligible for money and prizes, the mild-mannered voice over the phone says.

All that's needed up front is a standard fee, as well as a credit card or bank card number for verification.

The flashy sweepstakes mailing with your name on it promises millions of dollars, a luxury boat, a new home or countless other gifts.

The form's fine print tells you to send in a certain amount -- perhaps a processing fee -- right away. Maybe buying a magazine subscription is required. But whatever you do, don't delay, it tells the "winner."

Don't delay in hanging up the phone or throwing the form away, says Debra Rodgers, senior trade practice specialist for the local Better Business Bureau.

Caution: "You should never have to pay to win," Rodgers said.

Rodgers said her agency continues to receive many complaints from Valley residents who have lost money or have been promised winnings that never arrived.

She stressed that people should never give credit card, bank card numbers or other personal information to strangers over the phone or through the mail. A legitimate company will send winners' money or prizes to them, she said.

Many people are acting as caregivers to elderly parents and other relatives, a trend the BBB says is growing. The agency has a new pamphlet that addresses how caregivers can act to prevent a family member from being taken advantage of, Rodgers said.

"It's important to talk to them and explain what can happen," but to do it in a nonjudgmental way, Rodgers said.

She also said consumers can contact the BBB, which will send them direct marketing forms to fill out. The paperwork will help get the person off various mailing and other lists, Rodgers said.

The pamphlet also mentions the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, a federal law enacted to give postal authorities more latitude to prosecute those who attempt to defraud others. The law was largely designed to protect the elderly, said Timothy Frankin, Mahoning County chief of criminal division.

Avoiding discovery: Even with laws targeting deceptive and fraudulent advertising, many phony telemarketers and other operators are difficult to track. They often use post office boxes or mail drops and move around. Many also have their phone numbers blocked, making it almost impossible to trace calls, Rodgers said.

"Many victims don't remember who they sent money to," compounding the problem, she added.

Most people, however, spot deceptive advertising and refuse to fall for it. But those who send in money are usually placed on a list, making them more susceptible to losing money in the future, Rodgers said.

She compared fraudulent advertising practices with so-called work-at-home schemes, in which the caller or advertiser guarantees money to be made working at home. Rodgers cited the example of someone being hired to stuff envelopes and being paid up to $3 per envelope -- all for an up-front fee.

"No one should have to pay to work," Rodgers said.

barron@vindy.com




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