March 13, 2007

CONTACT: Mary Lynn Williams



The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders caution senior citizens to be aware of criminals who prey on the elderly, especially during this time of year.

During the spring, seniors often fall victim to home improvement scams. There are increasing cases where seniors are approached by a contractor going door to door.

“Our seniors are often targets of home improvement and other fraud,” said Union County Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski. “Phony contractors often prey on unsuspecting seniors by offering to do a job for a good price if the homeowner makes an immediate decision.”

Seniors are urged to be extremely cautious when doing business with anyone soliciting door to door or by telephone. Scams include offers clean the gutters while the contractor is in the neighborhood. A simple gutter cleaning can quickly turn into a major job where the roof needs to be replaced.

Other areas of fraud that target older adults include ATM use, internet scams, sweepstakes, promotions, contests and other solicitations.

ATM fraud may include a machine that has been tampered with or someone looking over your shoulder to retrieve personal information. Make sure the machine has not been tampered with and that no one is looking over your shoulder while you are using an ATM.

Seniors should also be aware of popular internet or “phishing” scams, in which the perpetrator attempts to collect personal and financial information. The intended victim may receive an email purported to be from a major retailer’s fraud department. The e-mail states that someone may be trying to use the senior citizen’s credit card numbers to make a purchase.

The recipient is then directed to a fake web site, where they are asked to enter personal information, including their credit card numbers.

Victims of sweepstakes and other promotional scams are misled into believing they have won cash or a valuable prize either through a postcard or a telephone call. Seniors who respond are asked to spend hundreds of dollars on beauty products, vitamins, or gift sets in order to receive their prize.

Throughout the scam, the victim is repeatedly contacted with misleading updates. The prize is never delivered. Should the senior victim stop buying the worthless product, they receive a call from a different source claiming they can help get the senior’s money back from the fraudulent company for a fee.

The Union County Office of Consumer Affairs warns that these types of scams are becoming increasingly common. To reduce your risk of becoming a victim of fraud:

  • Avoid any contractor who approaches you claiming he was in the neighborhood and can give you a good deal if you agree today.
  • Never pay for the entire job upfront.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when using ATM Machines.
  • Do not share social security numbers, credit card information, or other personal data over the Internet or with others unless you initiate the transaction.

For more information on senior fraud or to arrange a speaking engagement through the Consumer Affairs Speaking Bureau contact Union County Consumer Affairs at 908-654-9840.