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April, 2006

Senior News from April, 2006

DOJ Report Reveals the Extent of ID Theft

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 3.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft during a six-month period, from July through December, in 2004.  It determined that 48 percent of the victims had experienced an unauthorized use of a credit card; 25 percent had other accounts, such as bank accounts, used without permission; 15 percent experienced the misuse of personal information; and 12 percent experienced multiple types of theft at the same time.


Surprisingly to many, seniors were not over-represented as victims of identity theft.  In fact, the study determined that households headed by young people (age 18 – 24), those in urban or suburban areas, and those with incomes of $75,000 or more were the most likely to experience identity theft.  Victimization did not differ by race or ethnicity.


The study was conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, and was released on April 2, 2006.  For more information, visit the Department of Justice.


Senior Volunteers Assist Victims in Florida

The Seniors vs. Crime Project, facilitated by the Florida Attorney General’s Office, is working to educate senior citizens about fraud.  It is comprised of about 16 senior citizen volunteers, dubbed “senior sleuths,” who are committed to helping others who feel they may be the victims of a scam or hoax.  Since the Project formed in August 2005, it’s handled almost 40 cases and retrieved more than $17,000 for victims.  “We all hear about friends being scammed and it upsets us,” said one senior sleuth.  “I think we feel like fighting back.”


Seniors can contact the Seniors vs. Crime Project and talk to volunteers about possible cases of fraud.  Once a consent form is signed by the victim, the volunteer then acts as a mediator and contacts the suspected third party.  Most cases do not go to court because the third party will usually reimburse the victim, but occasionally law enforcement is notified.  Joseph Neville, the program’s office manager, said, “The average senior doesn’t have this information, but we have it at our fingertips.”


For more information, visit the Senior Sleuths online.


Kansas City Sextuplet Scam

In a bold example that illustrates the scope of America’s fraud problem, a Kansas couple recently apologized for a scheme in which they collected donations to help support their newborn sextuplets.  As it turns out, the couple did not birth sextuplets but had made up the story in order to escape their own financial predicament by taking advantage of the community’s generosity.  The couple appeared in their local newspaper holding six baby outfits, the wife sporting a huge, false midsection.  They even detailed the pregnancy, delivery, and surgeries that two of the babies would receive to a member of the Associated Press before the scandal broke and authorities became involved. 


It was unclear immediately how much the couple received through donations, but detectives are currently working with banks, post offices, and even through online accounts to track down the hijacked funds.  Authorities also said that the couple initially expressed no remorse for their actions.


Kansas City Seniors More Vigilant

After the implementation of the Elder Protection Initiative in Clay County, Missouri, senior citizens are becoming more aware of scam artists and more confident in their dealings with them.  The program allows people to report scam artists and fraud directly to their county prosecutor’s office.  By educating the public and making them aware of specific examples of fraud, the amount of fraud victims is reduced. 


One senior citizen reported that she received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service.  The caller asked her for personal information and promised money in return, but because of the Elder Protection Program, this citizen was able to recognize this as a scam and report it to the county’s prosecutor immediately.  In a similar example, a man received a call from someone claiming to be with the FBI and U.S. Customs.  The caller claimed that in order to receive some lottery winnings, the man would have to pay a fee.  That senior citizen was also able to recognize the scam and report it. 


Clay County prosecutor Daniel White insists that “prevention is always better than prosecution.”


For more information, read the Elder Protection Initiative press release (PDF).


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