Fraud for the Ages

Fraud Targeting Seniors, Health Fraud, Phone Fraud, Telemarketing Fraud
Fraud Targeting Seniors

When my close friend told me she lost money through phone fraud, I was surprised.  This was another story of someone in our age group being victimized.

In my close circle of friends alone, there has been identity theft, phone call fraud and loss of privacy issues.  I realized it was time to sit down and educate myself.  By referencing the better of two informational websites as well as a list of tips for fraud prevention, I hope to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of fraud.

1.  Federal Trade Commission’s statement on “Health Fraud and the Elderly: A Continuing Health Epidemic”

In 2001, the FTC prepared a statement on “Health Fraud and the Elderly: A Continuing Health Epidemic”.   Director Howard Beales states: “My comments will focus in particular on our work to combat fraudulent claims for products marketed as treatments or cures for serious diseases, many of which are particularly prevalent among elder citizens, including cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. Although aggressive law enforcement is crucial, the best consumer protection comes from preventing consumers from being deceived in the first instance. Thus, the Commission emphasizes consumer education to help consumers spot and avoid health fraud.

Consumer Health/Injury

We, the aging population, are a common target for fraudsters and scam artists.  As we are confronted with new needs for medical and consumer information, this opens the door for promoters of false cures and magical remedies all with the ultimate goal of separating us from our money.  We lack information and hold false beliefs about health and the causes of disease which contribute to our susceptibility to health fraud in particular.

Why? How are they so successful — because they promote HOPE? At best, these remedies are unproven, quick, painless – and worthless.  At worst, some products and services can pose a serious health threat. The promise of worthless or unproven remedies can deter victims from seeking the best available treatments. In some instances, particularly in the area of cancer, marketers have even told victims that it is not necessary for them to seek conventional treatment.

Example, one website for an unproven treatment told consumers:

Does this mean you can cancel your date for surgery, radiation and chemotherapy?

YES! After curing your cancer with this recipe it cannot come back.


But if you do not wish to make your doctor angry, you could follow her or his wishes, too.

Be careful not to lose ANY VITAL ANATOMICAL PARTS in surgery,

you may need them later when you are healthy!

Deferred treatment is not the only risk; some products and services are dangerous. This is a concern the Commission takes very seriously. Safety is a primary criterion the Commission uses in its case selection process, as illustrated by our recent cases against marketers of products containing ‘COMFRY’, an herbal product that, when taken internally, can lead to serious liver damage.

Law Enforcement

The Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Postal Service, and state law enforcement and regulatory agencies all play a role in protecting consumers, especially seniors, from health fraud. To combat health fraud on the Internet, the Commission initiated Operation Cure All.  The initial phase of Operation Cure.All consisted of two Internet surfs conducted in 1997 and 1998. As a result of these surfs we found over 1600 sites world-wide making questionable claims for products marketed as treatments for heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Of these, over 800 were located in North America, with the vast majority in the United States.

In 2009, the Commission has filed eight cases as part of Operation Cure.All, targeting companies that market a variety of devices, herbal products, and other dietary supplements to treat or cure cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and many other diseases. Among the products for which marketers made unsubstantiated health benefit claims were a DHEA hormonal supplement, St. John’s Wart, various multi-herbal supplements, colloidal silver, comfrey, and a variety of electrical therapy devices. Additionally, previous challenged products include Cat’s Claw, shark cartilage, cetylmyristoleate (CMO), Essiac Tea,and magnetic therapies. In all these cases the companies made strong claims about treatments or cures for serious diseases.

Consumer Education

The Commission maintains a comprehensive consumer education program.  “Miracle Health Claims: Add a Dose of Skepticism”; provides specific information about the efficacy and safety of popular products as well as information about spotting and avoiding health fraud. Another brochure, “Who Cares: Sources of Information About Health Care Products and Services,” published jointly with the National Association of Attorneys General, informs consumers about where they can go for information about arthritis cures, alternative medicine, and other health issues, and where they can file complaints about health fraud.

The Commission also uses the Internet to distribute its consumer education messages. The Commission’s Website,, provides links to reliable sources of health information, including, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, and consumer education tips such as those found in “Virtual Health Treatments Can Be Real World Deceptions.”

Health fraud poses a direct and immediate threat of both economic and physical injury to persons already suffering from serious conditions and diseases. The elderly are particularly vulnerable because of the high incidence of health-related problems in this age group. With thousands of marketers pushing worthless or unproven remedies, and limited enforcement resources, there is reason for concern.

On the positive side, consumers now have more accurate, reliable health information available to them, through the Internet and other sources, than ever before, and consumer surveys show that consumers are using these resources in record numbers.

2.  Fraud for Consumers

Their topic list: Alliance against Fraud in Telemarketing and eCommerce; Stopping Unwanted Sales Calls; Stop Calling Me! Remove Your Name from Marketing Lists; Identity Theft, Shopping Online; Your Privacy and more.

Telemarketing fraud robs U.S. citizens of at least $40 billion annually, according to Congressional estimates, and surveys by the American Association of Retired Persons indicate that over half of those victims are age 50 or older. It appears that most elderly fraud victims don’t make the connection between illegal telemarketing and criminal activity. We don’t associate the voice on the phone with someone who could be trying to steal our money.

‘Recovery Room Scams’ – the worst.  They are telemarketers who prey on people who have already been victimized from previous scams by promising to get them their refunds or prizes, 900 numbers where consumers are enticed to pay for calls in return for some bogus information such as how to receive free credit cards, and of course many senior’s favorite are the contests like Sweepstakes, which lure them in with false offers of cash or prizes.

Some of our elderly who believe they are Internet savvy might also fall prey to fraud. You don’t have to look far on the Internet to find health products that are totally bogus, prescriptions that are illegal and consumers who are unsuspecting.

3.  Fraud Tips to Know!!


Phone Fraud

Many phone scams involve bogus prize offers, phony travel packages, get-rich-quick investments and fake charities. Con artists are skilled liars who spend a lot of time polishing their sales pitches. As a result, it can be difficult to see through their scams.  Alert:  when you hear the buzz words for fraud:

  • You must act “now” or the offer will expire.
  • You’ve won a “free” gift, vacation or prize — but you must pay for “postage and handling” or some other charge.
  • You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number or have your check picked up by courier — before you’ve had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
  • It’s not necessary to check out the company with anyone — including your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau or consumer protection agency.
  • You don’t need written information about the company or its references.
  • You can’t afford to miss this “high-profit, no-risk” offer.

Telemarketing Fraud

It’s the Law.  You need to know your rights.  If you are troubled by calls – whether abusive, deceptive or simply annoying — should know that, under federal law:

  • It’s illegal for a telemarketer to call you if you have asked not to be called.
  • Calling times are restricted to the hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
  • Telemarketers must tell you it’s a sales call, the name of the seller, and what they are selling — before they make their pitch. If it’s a prize promotion, they must tell you that you don’t have to pay or buy anything to enter or win.
  • Telemarketers may not lie about any information, including any facts about their goods or services, the earnings potential, profitability, risk or liquidity of an investment, or the nature of a prize in a prize-promotion scheme.
  • Before you pay, telemarketers must tell you the total cost of the goods and any restrictions on getting or using them, or that a sale is final or non-refundable. In a prize promotion, they must tell you the odds of winning, that no purchase or payment is necessary to win and any restrictions or conditions of receiving the prize.
  • Telemarketers may not withdraw money from your checking account without your express, verifiable authorization.
  • Telemarketers cannot lie to get you to pay.
  • You do not have to pay for credit repair, recovery room or advance-fee loan/credit services until these services have been delivered.

Develop responses.  To end unwanted sales, possible responses include:

  • I don’t do business with people I don’t know
  • Please put me on your ‘Do-Not-Call List’
  • I’ll need to see written information on your offer before I consider giving you money
  • You can send that information to my attorney’s office at . . . .
  • Perhaps the easiest response is, “I’m not interested. Thank you and good-bye.”

Remember this and don’t be shy:

  • Say so! If you don’t want the seller to call back, say so. If they do call back, they’re breaking the law. That’s a signal to hang up!
  • Take your time and ask for written information about the product, service, investment opportunity or charity and then
  • Talk to a friend, relative or financial advisor before responding to a solicitation. Your financial investments may have consequences for your family or close friends.
  • Hang up! If they ask you to pay for a prize. Free is free.
  • Don’t know the caller?  Keep information about your bank accounts and credit cards private unless you know who you’re dealing with.
  • Hang up! If a telemarketer calls before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Check out any company with the state and local consumer protection office before you buy any product or service or donate any money as a result of an unsolicited phone call.
  • DO NOT send money — cash, check or money order — by courier, overnight delivery or wire to anyone who insists on immediate payment.

If you suspect a scam, call your state attorney general. The Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule gives state law enforcement officers the power to prosecute fraudulent telemarketers.
I hope this information is helpful.  My group of friends printed out the ‘Helpful Tips’ portion and posted on their refrigerators and by their home telephone.  Any helpful ideas or comments, please post!  I would love to hear from you.

~ Barbara