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July 9, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Many con artists and scammers consider older people to be the "perfect victims" for their crimes, a state official told local seniors on Tuesday.

Jennifer Aulgur, director of the TRIAD and Citizen Outreach program at the Virginia Attorney General's Office, cited several reasons for that.

Older people who are lonely because they have no friends or relatives nearby may reach out to anyone who is friendly with them, not realizing that someone is trying to swindle them, said Aulgur.

Seniors may not realize that they should call the police - or they might be embarrassed to call - if anyone tries to defraud them, Aulgur said.

Also, among swindlers, "there is a perception that all seniors have a ton of money" in their retirement years, she said.

Aulgur was the keynote speaker for "Who Has Their Hands in Grandma's Wallet?" The program, sponsored by King's Grant and held at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, covered frauds and scams affecting seniors.
Everyone may find her advice practical, though.

A frequent scam she discussed pertains to home improvements.
Aulgur said shady contractors will come to a house, tell the resident that they have materials left over from another job they have done in the neighborhood, such as painting or driveway paving, and offer to do work at that home if the person pays them cash on the spot.

People should not do business with a contractor without having a contract, Aulgur said. The contract should specify all work to be done - as well as any guarantees and promises made by the contractor - in writing, she said.

To find out if contractors are licensed or have complaints lodged against them, call the Virginia Board for Contractors at (804) 367-8511 or the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs at (800) 552-9963.

People using the Internet to buy products and services should use credit cards, not debit cards, because "there is greater recourse if something goes wrong," Aulgur said. For instance, credit card purchases are protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act, and it could be easier to get your money back if a person gets the card number and makes fraudulent purchases with it.

Credit card, checking account and Social Security numbers should not be given, either by phone or the Internet, to anyone soliciting business whose true identity cannot be easily determined, Aulgur pointed out.

When doing business on the Internet, she said, do not give such information unless the Web site is secure and reputable. The site is secure if it has either a yellow lock icon on the browser's status bar or a Web address that begins with "https:" - the "s" stands for secure.

In playing sweepstakes, do not pay to collect any winnings. Aulgur said that legitimate sweepstakes do not require anyone to pay insurance, shipping and handling fees or taxes on winnings.

Furthermore, state law prohibits people from having to pay to collect prizes they have won, she said.

Do not play foreign lotteries, either through the mail or by phone. It is against federal law, and "your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none," Aulgur said.

To help prevent identity theft, Aulgur said, "Don't carry your whole life in your pocketbook" or wallet. Think before you leave the house and then carry only the cards and documents you need on that trip. Leave the others at home.

Other tips she gave for preventing identity theft include:

"Do not give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call, and shred documents to be discarded containing such information.

"Take Social Security numbers off your checks if possible, and write checks with ink that cannot be washed off the check. Pens with such "indelible" ink can be bought at many department stores and office supply retailers.

"Mail bills either at the post office or from blue postal boxes around town. Never put bills in your mailbox at home because thieves may rummage through the box, according to Aulgur.

"Check credit reports for free each year by calling (877) 322-8228 or going online at

"Immediately report evidence of identity theft to financial institutions.

The TRIAD and Citizen's Outreach program is designed to protect Virginia's older residents from negative forces such as crime, according to Bill Garrett, executive director at King's Grant.

Aulgur said that seniors are welcome to call her at (804) 786-9516 if they have needs for which they think she can be of assistance.