A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 15, 1999
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
DON'T FALL PREY TO Y2K SCAMS
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.