Kewaneeâs Mary Buswell thought she was getting medications at a good price to help ease her chronic pain.
But a few days later, after a telemarketer claiming to be working with Medicare convinced her to provide her insurance ID number, the medications hadnât arrived.
And they never did. Instead, she was delivered a box of braces — elbow braces, back braces, knee braces — products which she did not order.
âIt was a bunch of things I didnât need and that wouldnât help me,â she said.
She called the contact number in Kentucky and complained, and was offered over-the-counter pain cream to help deal with her ailments instead of her regular medications.
She sent the braces back and since then has gotten a never-ending string of calls from the company, with representatives demanding payment for the items they sent.
âThe phone calls will not stop,â she said. âThey call me every hour and they are trying to send it back.â
Buswell is not alone.
The Kewanee Police Department said the number of attempted scam complaints has risen in the past few years, mostly in relation to the growth of the internet and social media.
Det. Mike Minx said hardly a week goes by that the department doesnât get contacted about a purported scam, either phone- or internet-based.
The one thing he tells everyone: âAlways verify who you are talking to and never give out any personal information unless you are absolutely sure.â
He said a simple online search can many times lead to reports of similar scams and websites that flag them.
âYou can look a lot of these companies up to see if they are credible,â he said. âThere are a lot of resources out there.â
If the web search doesnât work, he suggests getting a friend or family member involved before making a decision that might later be regretted.
âAlways double-check with somebody,â he said. âReach out to a family member and ask them if it makes sense or thereâs something youâre not seeing. If youâre still not sure, call the police.â
He said victims should also contact their banks to investigate any suspicious activity or have unapproved payments cancelled.
The FBIâs website says elderly people are the target of scammers for a number of reasons, most notably because they are more likely to have a âretirementâ nest egg. They also are more trusting and less likely to be rude to a prospective scam operator,
He said some of the more sophisticated scams targeting victims uses information gleaned from linked social media contacts. One such example is a scammer who was able to identify a grandmother using her grandsonâs Facebook information â then contacting her posing as the grandson asking for money to bail him out of jail. There also are several lottery-related schemes reported locally, with victims receiving an email asking them to send a small amount of money to claim an even larger amount.
âAs they say, âIf itâs too good to be true, it probably is,ââ he said.
Minx admits there are difficulties locally in investigating such crimes because they are coming from so many sources, many of them from overseas or hidden behind legal loopholes or other shady corporate layers.
He said the police department documents scam complaints, gives advice for avoiding being duped and points victims toward agencies that specifically deal with wide-ranging scams.
to turn for help
One of those agencies is the Moline-based Alternatives organization, a grant-funded umbrella for a host of senior citizen services with an office on Tremont Street in Kewanee. Serving 10 counties, the organization, formerly Alternatives for Older Adults) also receives state funds through the Illinois Department of Aging.
Telly Papanikolaou, Alternatives program director, said the agency receives many scam referrals, though the majority of them arenât for medical scams. Most, he said, are lottery scams, or for fraudulent condominium purchases.
Reports of senior financial exploitation go to Adult Protective Services, but the agency does not have the resources to investigate the number of scams reported. He said the agency will provide callers with information and resources to avoid being victimized.
âWe canât investigate, but we can advise and redirect them to the proper services,â he said. âWe give information as a resource.â
He said victims of scams or fraud can also contact the Federal Trade Commission to officially file a complaint. The FTCâs website also has information on how to avoid being scammed, including 25 pages listing specific, popular scams. It also accepts identity theft complaints, offers a âdo not callâ list and many other services including free consumer credit reports.
Papanikolaou said his agency is responding to a host of senior citizen victimization issues.
It was form and is supported in part by the state because of the growing number of elder abuse issues, which range from scamming to outright physical abuse or financial fraud at their expense.
The Alternatives organizationâs services for residents 60 and older include care coordination, which pairs seniors with local âquality of lifeâ services; adult protective services, which protect seniors them from neglect; ombudsmen, which advocates for seniors who have been victimized by health institutions; money management, including bill-paying and budgeting assistance; support services for caregivers of elderly; and the Bridges Senior center in Peru, which offers services and activities for aging residents. Alternatives offers many of the same services to residents with disabilities as young as 18.
All of the calls made to the 1-800-798-0988 number go through the Moline office, with available caseworkers assigned clients based on region. Not all services are available in every local service center.
Several scam-related websites indicated that many seniors who bite on a scam are afraid to report it out of fear of being profiled as gullible.
That was the case with Buswell â who says she knows she shouldnât have handed out her information without knowing more.
But she wasnât so embarrassed she didnât call the police and hire an attorney to respond to the company that she says ripped her off.
She agreed to participate in this story because she said she wants to help others avoid the same situation sheâs had to endure.
âTheyâre targeting people with chronic pain,â she said. âI think itâs terrible they are just preying on people.â
Why are senior citizens being targeted?
The FBIâs Common Fraud Schemes webpage provides tips on how you can protect yourself and your family from fraud. Senior citizens especially should be aware of fraud schemes for the following reasons:
Senior citizens are most likely to have a ânest egg,â to own their home, and/or to have excellent creditâall of which make them attractive to con artists. People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say ânoâ or just hang up the telephone. Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they donât know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or donât know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs. When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victimsâ realization that they have been swindled may take weeksâor more likely, monthsâafter contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events. Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artistsâ products can do what they claim.
Where to go for help
Alternatives (local services and information for seniors)
Illinois Atty. Gen. Senior Citizen and Consumer Fraud Hotline
Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center
KPD non-emergency number