Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

A View from the Hill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 15, 1999
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240


Every once in a while when I'm flipping through the channels on the television, I come across one of those shows that just sucks you right in. No, it's not the infomercial starring that juice guy with huge, white eyebrows- it's a program called The World's Dumbest Criminals. Just when you think you have seen every possible display of stupidity in the world, this show takes you to the next level. Here we see the guy who robbed a convenient store and left his wallet- complete with driver's license, social security card, and daytime phone number- at the counter. An even better episode involved a man who was caught attempting to jimmy open the door of an unlocked car that had the keys right in the ignition! How can these people be so dimwitted? One would think that if a person were about to do something illegal, he or she would take at least a few extra steps to make sure everything went right.

The World's Dumbest Criminals is entertaining to watch because it pokes fun at the lighter side of the law, but the fact of the matter is that crime is a very serious issue. Regrettably, some criminals are more successful than their comrades on television because they know how to break the law without getting caught. Today's felons are seasoned professionals who know what they are doing, and they do it quite well.

It is frustrating to hear about these terrible accounts of crime in our country, and it is even more maddening to find out about crimes committed against vulnerable groups like senior citizens. The elderly are among the easiest targets for perpetrators because they often cannot defend themselves in the way others can. In particular, fraud poses one of the most serious threats to seniors because it can literally bankrupt unsuspecting victims. For some elders, a single bank account represents a lifetime of hard-earned income. Were someone to steal these funds, there would be almost nothing left to live on. In a country where the national government finds it increasingly difficult to provide funding for its elders, defrauded seniors are in real trouble.

Fortunately, where the federal government leaves off, state and local governments pick up the slack. Year after year, we in the Legislature make substantial appropriations for programs that greatly benefit seniors in the Commonwealth. The state Executive Office of Elder Affairs, for example, provides professional services and support programs for seniors both directly and through local organizations like the Council on Aging. The Attorney General's Office works closely with senior citizens by keeping them aware of relevant issues in the legal field such as nursing home admission agreements and the latest scams and rip-offs. In addition to backing the tremendous efforts of these agencies, we earmarked $2 million specifically for elder protective services for the fiscal year 2000.

Complementing state and municipal efforts is the incredible work done by local seniors associations, which often join ranks with Councils on Aging to create programs and workshops for the benefit of our elders. Just a few weeks ago, I participated in one such program at the Jenks Senior Center in Winchester whose theme was "Savvy Seniors Make Wise Consumers." This symposium- coordinated by the Winchester Seniors Association and Council on Aging and supported by generous donations from members of the community- was a terrific way of helping seniors stay on top of relevant issues in their lives.

Several people attended this important event, including members of the Seniors Association and Council on Aging, representatives from the Attorney General's Office, lawyers specializing in seniors' issues, specialists in elder care, and Channel 5 consumer reporter Susan Wornick. Many of these people spoke to the audience about topics ranging from long term insurance to asset management. In addition, there were several exhibits that provided a wealth of information about a variety of senior issues and also a question and answer section that allowed the audience to actively participate in the program.

One of the highlights was a consumer alert on some of the newest scams relating to the Year 2000- or to use a term that many of us are now sick of- "Y2K." The state Division of Banks has been tracking one rip-off scheme that has already bamboozled a few unsuspecting seniors from other states. Con artists, posing as "bank examiners," are calling bank customers to supposedly confirm that their accounts are Y2K compliant. Customers are told that the bank is having difficulty preparing for the new year and so all monies must be moved to a "special bond account" specifically designed to hold the funds until the "readiness problem" is resolved. The scammers ask for account numbers, PIN numbers, Social Security numbers, and other kinds of information in order to pilfer entire account balances from innocent victims.

Another trap discussed was the "Credit Card Compliance" scam. In this instance, people are told that their old credit cards will no longer work in the new year without a special magnetic strip. To get this strip, customers must supply their card number, Social Security number, and mother's maiden name to the "service representatives" on the other end of the line. As we all know, these three bits of information are enough to allow thieves to max out a credit card right under our noses.

A final rip-off preys on the fears of people who have 100, 50, and 20 dollar denominations of the old currency. They are informed that these old bills will be invalid after January 1, 2000 and must be exchanged for new currency, treasury bonds, or gold certificates. Of course, once they fork over their real dollars they will be handed a stack of counterfeits that are worth less than the paper they are printed on.

As a general rule, the best way to keep our money safe from con artists is to use common sense. If someone makes an effort to contact us to request personal financial information, we should instantly be suspicious since real bank and credit officials never do such a thing. If you receive such a call, immediately contact the Attorney General's Consumer Hot Line at (617) 727-8400. Should you have questions about Y2K compliance, contact your bank directly and they will provide you with any information you need to know. For internet-savvy seniors, check the Division of Banks question and answer website at . On top of the superb efforts of local organizers to raise awareness of senior issues, these resources will help make rip-off artists the laughing stock of the criminal world.

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