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Updated: 10/30/2012 05:48:49PM

Seniors must be aware of scam artists

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Willie Sutton attained Bartlett-level immorality when he responded simply to a question about why he robbed banks:

“That’s where the money is.”

The same can be said of our senior population, many of whom have retired with comfortable nest eggs and many of whom may be particularly vulnerable to scam artists looking for new ways to separate them from their savings. Like Willie the bank robber, scam artists follow the money and sniff out vulnerabilities.

We are all vulnerable to scams, but seniors are targeted more frequently.

At the newspaper, we frequently get phone calls and letters asking about solicitations that sound too good to be true. (Short answer: They are too good to be true.)

A while back, a savvy senior we know stopped by the office wondering about an “award notification” he received in the mail from “US Airlines.” Two “free tickets.” It looked official. A “final notice.” Was it for real? Of course not. Someone was trying to sell him something “free” that would have ended up costing a ton. He was tempted, but thankfully, he did not bite.

Experts say seniors who are alone may be more vulnerable to a kindly pitch. They are polite. They may be more likely to be home to answer the doorbell or telephone. They may need help with home repairs and may be more open to a pitch.

They also may be more vulnerable to financial scams. A contributor to the financial website Motley Fool recently noted a survey that indicated older victims of financial impropriety lost an average of $140,000.

Reporting also can be a problem. Once they realize they’ve been scammed, the embarrassment often dissuades proud victims from contacting police. Older people also may be worried about retaliation.

Whatever the reason, experts suggest the following precautions:

• Never give personal information — Social Security or bank account numbers — over the phone, via email or in person to anyone you are not absolutely certain of.

• If a bank contacts you, get the person’s name and ID number, then call back on a general line to confirm.

• Don’t be taken in by high-pressure sales pitches. Do not sign anything on the spot. Get a second opinion, if only from a friend.

• Insist on seeing a contractor’s license. Write down the number.

• If you need home repair work, get multiple written estimates. Get a contract. Contact someone you trust before signing anything.

• Do not pay for all work up-front. Pay the balance on completion, when you’re satisfied the work has been done properly.

• Be wary of free financial seminars. Be wary of cold calls from people selling financial services. Check them out with an independent third party.

• Be wary of promises of big returns on investments. Seniors on fixed income may be more susceptible to the lure of big returns. If it sounds too goo to be true …

• The Motley Fool’s Dan Caplinger recommends you check references and do independent investigation before trusting your finances to anyone. Senior citizen or not, that’s good advice.

Scam artists have a thousand ways to beat you. Keep your guard up.