Smart About Money: Beware of the sucker list

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If you’re trying to help a relative or friend you see responding to dubious mail and telephone schemes, you’ve probably realized how tough it is to combat the unstoppable flood of “offers” they get.

Maybe you’ve even wondered if the person you’re concerned about has been specifically targeted. In many cases, the answer is probably “Yes!”

In a remarkably straightforward recent article on bankrate.com, John Breyault, the director of the Fraud Center at the National Consumers League, spells out what is going on all too often.

“If a person’s mail is filled with sweepstakes notifications, free gift offers, and more magazines than they could possibly read, chances are they’re on ‘a sucker list,’” he said. “Once a person takes the bait for one scam, thieves sell their name and address and the fake mailings proliferate.”

And it’s not just the mail, bankrate.com points out. “Rip-off artists also sell names and phone numbers of people who prove to be ‘phone-receptive.’”

Every banker can attest to the fact that what Breyault and bankrate.com say is true. Bankers have seen it too many times. The signs are always the same.

A customer comes in looking to take money from their account in some alarming way that gets the attention of the bank staff.

The customer is not always elderly. There is often no hint of any medical problem. The amounts they’re withdrawing aren’t always huge. Sometimes they are, of course. Unusually large for that person. Sometimes it’s just an uncharacteristic string of small withdrawals.

The common threads are: 1) The withdrawals are out of the ordinary for the individual and, 2) They mention they’re sending it off to a contest, a lottery, a very obscure charity, or there’s some sort of odd “story” attached.

Everyone, including bankers, police, postmasters, elder care attorneys, and senior centers, hate to see people lose money to these truly heartless thieves.

Unfortunately, we also know that while the people who are being scammed are very trusting and very hopeful, they can also be extremely stubborn and particularly difficult to help.

If you’re worried a loved one may be on “a sucker list,” getting them to change is most likely not going to be easy. But you owe it to yourself and them to give it a try.

Even though confidentiality laws may keep authorities from getting into specifics with you, you should still speak to someone at the bank the person uses, if you know which bank it is. You should speak to the local police.

Also, try the local senior center, if the person is older. If simple loneliness was what got them hooked into the unhealthy attention telemarketing swindlers provide, organized activities might get them away.

You may want to consult with an attorney to see if there’s anything you can do legally to protect this person from thieves — and themselves.

Bear in mind, though, that in these cases, many times the best efforts of families and friends fail. If a person is competent, they are free to make unfortunate decisions. Sad, but true.

Nick Maffeo is the president of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to submissions@thecantoncitizen.com.

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avatar Posted by on Jun 26 2014. Filed under Business, Opinion, Smart About Money.
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