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Mt. Pleasant seniors get tips to protect against scams

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Cami DiBattista | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Caitlin Vancas, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh chapter of the Better Business Bureau, discussed common scams used to target senior citizens with residents of Harmon House Care Center in Mt. Pleasant on April 16, 2013. Vancas suggested those in attendance abide by the bureau-approved ways in which they might protect themselves from becoming victims of fraud.

Senior citizens are the fastest growing group that fall prey to scams and fraud, according to the Better Business Bureau, a North American advocacy organization.

At a recent visit to Harmon House Care Center, bureau spokeswoman Caitlin Vancas spoke to residents to teach them about common scams that target senior citizens and to offer tips and suggestions of how to protect themselves.

“Over 50 percent of fraud victims are senior citizens,” Vancas said. “They tend to be more trusting and less likely to suspect a con artist.”

State police at Greensburg spokesman Steve Limani attended the presentation to answer questions.

“Senior citizens have a tendency to listen to slick talkers and unfortunately they often become victims,” Limani said. “All it takes is one transaction on the computer and you're done.”

Every day the mailboxes, telephones and e-mail accounts of older Americans are used to target them in one of the most common forms of fraud – identity theft, Vancas said.

“The residents get mail, phone calls and have access to the internet,” said Shaneen Carson, a Harmon House employee who works in the facility's activities department.

“They are vulnerable. We try to keep tabs and offer advice without invading their privacy,” she said.

Often, senior citizens are not technically savvy and this creates problems with phishing, Vancas said. Phishing is when criminals send out legitimate looking emails asking for verification of account information, which they then use to steal identities or empty bank accounts.

“Never respond to an email that asks for personal information or click on anything in a questionable email,” Vancas said. “A legitimate business will never ask this of you.”

Home improvement scams, phony charities and healthcare and investment scams are also ways in which older Americans are scammed.

“Scammers are master manipulators,” Vancas said. “They encourage emotional, on-the-spot decision making.”

In any questionable situation arises, the bureau advises to think first and not panic. If fraud is committed, the victim is encouraged to contact the bureau with as much information as possible.

“Remember that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Vancas said.

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer.