Consumer advice: Elder Fraud Strike Force might make a difference

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Attorney General William Barr recently announced a new strike force to target and prosecute criminals tied to elder-fraud schemes that originate in other counties. These scammers are hard to track down and prosecute because they aren’t subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

One in 10 seniors older than 60 falls victim to a financial scam, government data shows. Up until now, the U.S. government hasn’t been very effective at combating the foreign-based fraud schemes. The transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force will be a multipronged effort against fraud involving telemarketing, mass mailings, phony tech support, foreign lotteries, sweepstakes and other scams.

The strike force will look into cases where victims are being targeted door-to-door, over the phone or online. FBI Director Christopher Wray said his agency was committed to keeping elderly residents safe.

Other partners include the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Trade Commission and private companies in the financial and tech-support sectors.

Barr said the strike force would use data analytics and other sophisticated investigative approaches as well as work with foreign law enforcement to track down criminals and hold them accountable. Foreign crime groups became more prevalent after they realized the consequences of being caught paled compared with the benefits they could reap at the expense of the victims they targeted.

Atlanta, Brooklyn, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa will test the effectiveness of this new approach. Let’s hope that this is a good solution for the rest of the country to provide much-needed relief from these scams.

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MAXIMIZE BBB INFO: It’s good to know there are resources to help combat scams, but it’s important to know how to interpret the information.

One good resource for consumers is the Better Business Bureau. The bureau — which is not affiliated with any governmental agency — is a private nonprofit whose members promote business standards.

Some readers have expressed concern that a company might not be accredited but has a BBB grade. That’s because accreditation carries a cost. What’s more important is the BBB rating. Also check out customer reviews and customer complaints. The complaints section can give you great information into how the company operates and responds to complaints. As the company satisfactorily addresses complaints, its responses factor in the company’s overall rating.

For example, if a company had several complaints but maintains a decent rating, like a B+, you should read through the complaints and see how the company handled them. If the company resolves complaints and can prove it, the BBB awards a higher rating. If a company has an F rating and hasn’t handled multiple complaints, you should probably avoid it.

My advice: When researching a company, check out the reviews and complaints section of the website.

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SOCIAL SECURITY ALERT: I’ve received more than a dozen calls from local seniors the past week who called to warn that criminals are targeting Social Security recipients and telling them that unless they call back, their benefits will be cut off or suspended. Scammers are using this scare tactic to get the recipients to call back because chances are if you do, they will be able to glean personal information from you.

One reader called back. She said someone answered right away and identified themselves as a Social Security Administration representative.

Of course, the scammer wanted the caller to verify her name and Social Security number and other identifying information so they could “restore” her benefits. Don’t fall for it. The Social Security Administration never does business by phone. They use the mail and will send a letter to explain any issues. If you receive these calls, ignore them. Don’t call back. If you have a reason to contact the Social Security Administration, initiate the call yourself at 800-772-1213.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please email terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call 208-274-4458.

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