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Seniors likely targets for scammers

4:27 AM, Jun 7, 2013   |    comments
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An 84-year-old may have won last month's record-setting lottery, but some of Gloria MacKenzie's peers are finding themselves winning a different kind of lottery - the kind that loses them money.

It's called a lottery scam, and data show that senior citizens are more likely than any other age group to fall victim to it and other fraudulent transactions, especially those promising prize promotions.

What typically happens, explain several fraud experts, is the senior receives an e-mail, letter or phone call alerting them that they've won the lottery, often in another country. But to receive their winnings, they'll have to pay some sort of fee by wiring money through a service like Western Union or MoneyGram.

According to a report released in April by the Federal Trade Commission based on a survey about consumer fraud in the U.S., those ages 55 to 74 had the greatest chance of falling victim to fraudulent prize promotions like this. While just 1% of those surveyed were victims of fraudulent prize promotions, that jumps to 2.8% for those ages 65 to 74.

"They're more targeted, one because they have money, and two because they're more accessible," says Sally Hurme, a project manager with AARP who also serves as an attorney for elders dealing with scams. "They're more likely to be home, to be answering the phone."

A study released in 2011 of more than 2,200 people by AARP found that lottery scam victims tend to be less educated, lower-income and single.

And if they send money once, they're more likely to be targeted again.

"There's always a fee that you're required to send to them to receive your winnings," says Doug Shadel, state director for AARP in Washington and a former fraud investigator with the attorney general's office there. "As soon as you do that, you have a big X on your back. Now all the really bad guys start calling you."

A sample of fraudulent MoneyGram transactions in the past year and a half shows that lottery scam victims lost an average of $715, the company says. It adds that because victims are often duped more than once, they can sometimes end up losing tens of thousands of dollars.

Scammers keep call lists that are often bought and sold among them, says Hurme, adding that these lists "become valuable. They can be very detailed with personal information."

On the occasions when law enforcement is able to seize these lists, AARP reaches out to those on them with the hopes of educating them on how to detect and report scams.

Earlier this year, the group sent out public-service postcards to 25 million people in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service about the warning signs of lottery scams.

Despite AARP's efforts, Hurme says, lottery scams are "ubiquitous."

"We keep warning people, but people still get ensnared because the scammers are so good at what they do."

Hadley Malcolm, USA TODAY

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