Better Business Bureau: Elderly victims targeted by their handwriting

Nov. 13, 2010 at 5:13 a.m.

By Alan Bligh

Often I am asked, "How do the schemers select their victims?" Most of the time it is at random, but sometimes, certain folks are targeted. For example, another telemarketing fraud scam is making the rounds. This one has siphoned $20 million from American victims. The schemers call announcing that the victims have won a sweepstakes, supposedly from a trusted charity, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The scammers then asked the victims to pay taxes or insurance on the winnings in advance.

What is different is that this scam does not use random targets. The schemers select the victims by collecting returned sweepstakes mailers that are filled out with shaky handwriting; indicating that the potential victim was elderly.

The U.S. Postal Service has taken the unusual step of mailing a warning brochure to every single home in the nation highlighting facts about scam artists and how to protect you from getting tricked. They encourage consumers to check companies with BBB.


We have received several government alerts concerning the apparent growth of ATM related scams. The scam involves card skimming which involves the stealing of information implanted in your card's magnetic strip. This is accomplished when a criminal attaches a device at the mouth of a card-acceptance slot that records the data on your card as you slide it in. The criminal returns to the ATM or gas pump at a later time to collect the device containing all of the stolen account information or the information is sent by wireless to the schemer. The BBB offers the following tips when using ATMs or paying for gas by card:

Use your credit card at the gas pump instead of your debit card. This way, if you become victimized you haven't lost the money directly. You can contact your credit card company and they will get the fraudulent charges removed. If money is stolen directly from your bank account, this could have much worse consequences for you and getting the money replaced could take quite some time.

Avoid using ATMs that are not located well lit areas or in remote areas.

Look closely at the machine you are putting your card into. If it appears compromised in any way, do not use it.

If your card gets stuck in machine, do not leave the area. Call your bank right away and report the issue.

Monitor your accounts daily for any fraudulent activity. The sooner you detect fraud, the better off you will be at resolving it quickly and keeping it from continuing.


We have received several calls concerning telemarketers who are calling consumers about an unknown debt. It's a scary truth, but some old consumer debts never die, even after they've been paid off, written off, settled or discharged in bankruptcy. Instead, these so-called "zombie" debts come back to life and are sold and resold among collection agencies. Some of these supposed claims are based on nothing more than a spreadsheet of names and account numbers with little or no information about the original debt. Some of these old debt claims are pursued against people who have no connection with the original debt. It's not uncommon to see debt collectors going after the wrong person.

They're also known to try to collect money they're not entitled to or amounts that far exceed what the debt should be. If contacted, best thing is to demand proof of the debt in writing.

Alan Bligh is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau in Corpus Christi. Contact him by e-mail at abligh@corpus



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