Healthy Aging Column – Don’t Fall for a (Phone) Line

It happened again. My neighbor was sucked into one of those too-good-to-be-true deals by a fast talker at the other end of her phone line. This one wanted to seal the driveway, but over-the-phone sales pitches can include a variety of offers.

I am more than just mildly upset, not just because it happened to someone I know, but also because it can and does happen to countless trusting and unsuspecting folks on a daily basis. Some authorities insist that senior citizens are the most frequent prey of phone scams, while other experts note that anyone who is intrigued by the thought of free gifts, extremely low prices, easy money or other financial gain can be a casualty.

The process starts with a phone call from a pleasant-sounding voice that may begin with some cordial small talk in an attempt to assure the intended victim (a word purposely chosen) that the caller is indeed a friendly, trustworthy individual. Look out folks, this person is neither friendly nor trustworthy!

The deal presented to my friend offered one of the classic lines: "We’re doing work for several of your neighbors and have some materials left over, so can offer you a good deal." In this case, they wanted to seal the cracks in her asphalt driveway and parking strip which, unfortunately, she payed them in advance to do – a mistake on her part.

When the job was finished and the crew was long gone with her money, she realized that the sticky mess did not appear to be properly drying and setting up. For the remainder of the summer, black, sticky gunk oozed across her sidewalks, pets and children tracked through it and the neighborhood reeked with the smell of the mysterious concoction which had been painted on the driveway. To add insult to injury, the neighbor had no business name, address or phone number to contact those who had taken her money for a job so poorly done.

Here are a few suggestions provided by the American Association of Retired Persons and Colorado State University Cooperative Extension on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim to similar schemes that begin with a phone call.

Federal sweepstakes law and Federal Trade Commission telemarketing trade rules are being violated if the caller notifies you as a winner of a contest or item, but indicates that you are required to make a purchase or send money to collect your prize. Never give your credit card number over the phone unless you have initiated the call to make a purchase from a company you know is reputable.

Hang up on telemarketers. You are not obligated to answer any questions or speak with them. You also may want to ask them to remove your name from their call list.

Be wary of those who claim to represent fire fighters, police or other local entities. These requests to purchase tickets or otherwise solicit funds are often not connected to local agencies that serve your community. Demand that they send you written information before you send them money. If it they claim that it is not available or you find that a high percentage of their collected funds never reach charities, perhaps it would be better to not contribute.

You also may receive calls from people who claim to represent your bank or agencies, such as Social Security or Internal Revenue Service, to "verify information." Be very wary of sharing any personal information, account numbers, etc., with these callers. If they are asking for account information, your Social Security number or other personal information, you may be opening the door to future problems. You should hang up, call your bank at the number you know really is your bank, and verify that the call was legitimate. Do not use the phone number provided by the caller as this may not really be your bank’s number.

Dishonest telemarketers prey not only upon lonely, vulnerable people, but also on those who are well-educated, have above-average incomes and who are socially active in their communities. The tactics and sales pitches are appropriately sophisticated to target their audience. Phony prizes, illegal sweepstakes, sham investments, shoddy home repairs, crooked charities or "recovery rooms" where victims are hit again with offers (for a fee, of course), to assist them in recovery of their lost money all are methods used by criminals posing as friends and helpers.

Suspicious telemarketing calls, as well as junk mail solicitations and advertisements, can be reported to the National Fraud Information Center at 1-800-876-7060.

Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available from Colorado State University by visiting the Web at, clicking on Info Online, Consumer/Family then scrolling to Healthy Aging.