Friday, August 23, 2013

Consumer Protection: Helping Aging Family Members Avoid Telemarketers

While visiting family recently, I wound up answering the telephone several times and realized how often my parents were receiving calls from telemarketers.  The callers were exceptionally clever, obviously working off lists that suggested the age of the owner of the telephone number. The calls were seductive, pitching "permanent" lowering of utility bills, free home inspections, or unnecessary renewals of magazine "subscriptions." I realized how easy it was to listen just long enough to be sucked into one or another "hook."  

Older adults remain prime targets for telemarketers because they still have "land lines," tend to be less likely to call or use the internet to register for "Do Not Call" protection, and because they probably spend more time at home.  During the years of working with Penn State's Elder Protection Clinic, we had several cases of major financial exploitation that started with telephone scams. Often the son or daughter said, "I can't believe my frugal mom would fall for such a thing."  But the scammers know how to work the emotions of a frugal elder and prey upon any diminishment of critical thinking skills or judgment (sometimes a subtle, early but still unrealized sign of cognitive decline).

Perhaps that's where attorneys can help families protect their older family members.  As part of an Elder Law attorney's practice, at an early meeting, we can ask, "have you (or your parent) registered for 'Do Not Call?'"  And we can have the information on how to register readily available. 

Here's a link for consumer information from the Federal Trade Commission on the registry program and here's the link for the Do Not Call Registry on-line.   

Oh, and contrary to one of the scammer's arguments, there is no "expiration" date for telephone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry! 

-- Katherine C. Pearson, Penn State Law

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