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How seniors can avoid scams

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Fake lottery prizes. Bogus pleas for help from callers posing as relatives. Email schemes promising thousands of dollars with little to no effort.

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They're all scams that prey on people's emotions and sometimes, unfortunately, their age. Scams against the elderly are common here in Douglas County and across the state.

Age-related factors, illnesses, and cognitive impairment are factors that can make many older adults particularly vulnerable to investment fraud and financial exploitation, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Senior citizens control nearly 70 percent of the nation's wealth — and crooks know it, often making seniors a prime target for fraud.

"Unfortunately, criminals prey on senior citizens and we know that Minnesota's seniors are often the target of financial fraud — whether through fake lottery or investment scams — and these crimes go unreported to loved ones at an alarming rate," said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.

Fortunately, over the past three years, the state has been able to build partnerships with healthcare professionals, social workers, CPAs, and financial institution employees to teach them how to identify the warning signs of financial fraud and ask their clients and customers important questions to stop and prevent financial exploitation.

Every year, an estimated 5 million, or 1 in 10, older Americans are victims of elder abuse and experts believe that for every case that is reported, as many as 23.5 go unreported.

Rothman said there are steps that seniors can take to protect themselves:

• End the call. There is no such thing as being rude when protecting yourself and your investments from scammers. If a solicitor makes you uncomfortable or is confusing, just hang up. Trust your instincts.

• Phone a friend. When Rothman's grandmother is called by a solicitor over the phone, the first thing she does is call Rothman. You should identify a trusted friend or family member you can call for questions and advice.

• Report the fraud. The commerce department can help. Report the fraud so others don't fall victim to the same scam.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce Consumer Help Line can be reached by phone at 1-800-657-3602. Complaints can also be sent by email to consumer.protection@state.mn.us or by mail to Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 7th Place East, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55101.

This editorial previously ran in the Alexandria Echo Press

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