SALEM — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) is arming seniors in the battle against fraud and scam artists.
Residents packed the Senior Center for a senior consumer protection information presentation with Shaheen and representatives of the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office and the Federal Trade Commission.
“The topic is one that we're going to be addressing more and more in this country,” Shaheen said.
Just recently an 80-year-old woman in Haverhill, Mass., lost $25,000 in a telephone scam. A Nashua grandmother was targeted in a similar scheme, Shaheen said.
“Probably the most troubling aspect in these types of scams is that they take advantage of people's good nature,” Shaheen said.
Questions from the audience ranged from screening contractors, telemarketers and random emails, to reverse mortgages and fraudulent investment advisors.
“This is a big issue,” said James Boffetti, senior assistant attorney general of New Hampshire and chief of the state Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau. “There are a lot of scams happening every day.”
The Attorney General's office receives about 4,000 written complaints from consumers annually, with an additional 4,000 calls coming over the hotline, he said. Once the money is gone it's very difficult to get it back, Boffetti said.
The Internet is a wonderful tool delivering a world of information to your fingertips, Boffetti said, but it can also be a scary world to those unfamiliar with the Internet.
For online protection, Boffetti advised consumers to get good anti-virus software that automatically updates, ignore emails asking for personal information, make sure sites are encrypted before entering personal information, protect passwords and backup the computer system regularly.
Consumers can also check companies through the Better Business Bureau before purchasing from them online, he said.
Fighting back starts by teaching consumers what to look for, how to stay alert and who to contact if they suspect fraud, he said.
“There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there,” said Michael Marino of the Federal Trade Commission.
According to the FTC, 30.2 million adults in the United States, or 13.2 percent of the adult population, were victims of fraud in 2007, the most recent year nationwide statistics are available.
Consumers should avoid identify theft and protect their financial information by shredding unwanted credit card offer and reading the small print before signing a sales contract, Marino said. He warned people not to pay shipping or taxes for so-called free gifts or prizes. Consumers should not be afraid to ask questions and research companies before doing business with them. Finally, Marino advised everyone to remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Anyone who thinks they may be a victim of fraud should alert the three major credit agencies, make out a police report, close the affected bank accounts and contact the Federal Trade Commission, Marino said.
Community Affairs Officer Matthew Norcross of the Salem Police Department said residents need to be aware that cases of fraud and identity theft do happen locally.
“The only way to prevent that is by educating people,” Norcross said.
Like many attending the event, Ellie Poulin said she found the information extremely helpful.
“We've always been very aware of scams,” Poulin said. “We try to be very vigilant.”
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Julie Hanson may be reached at Jhanson@newstote.com.