Pols Host Senior Consumer Awareness Seminar
Senior Appreciation Week in South East Queens continued on September 16 when seven senior centers held Consumer Awareness Seminars hosted by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer. Joining Pheffer was City Councilman James Sanders Jr.
"We felt for seniors to go to one place is difficult, because you have to provide transportation and everything," said Pheffer, who Chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee in the State Assembly. "So, we felt by bringing it to different centers…they could come to participate and then go about their business."
Identity theft, telemarketing and various scams targeting seniors were discussed at JASA’s Brookdale Center on Beach 19th Street. New York City’s Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, Gretchen Dykstra was joined by representatives from the State Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Queens District Attorney’s Office, the 101st Precinct and the AARP.
Commissioner Dykstra explained about contacting the FTC.
"[For example] if a store cheats you, [call 311] and you will be transferred to the consumer protection agency," said Commissioner Dykstra, who urged calling 311 to report any consumer problems. "We do it at the grassroots level – in Queens with our inspectors there. Remember, we’re here to protect you under the consumer protection law."
In 2002, identity theft ranked number one among consumer complaints to the FTC. New York is third in the country when it comes to identity theft crimes.
Robin Eichen, a FTC Senior Attorney, detailed how to limit the risk of becoming an identity theft victim.
"Keep your personal information – anything with your bank account number, social security number, mother’s maiden name, any personal information in a very safe place," said Eichen. "You should tear or shred your receipts, copies of credit card applications, insurance forms, doctor statements, bank checks and credit card statements you’re getting rid of, in addition to any charge cards and credit forms you get in the mail."
People should obtain a copy of their credit report at least once a year, and they should always know how information collected from them is being used. Victims of identity theft should contact the police, the FTC and the three major credit bureaus.
Many telemarketing scams target senior citizens.
"Hang up on any telemarketer that tells you that you need to send a payment to receive an award or participate in a prize promotion," said Eichen of the FTC. "Be on the alert for high pressure tactics and demands for immediate purchasing decisions."
Officer Michael Valentino, of the 101st precinct, told the seniors never to donate any money to anyone who calls collecting for the NYPD.
"The New York City Police Department does not, will not and will never solicit money in any way, shape or form," said Officer Valentino. "We do not call. We do not send you letters."
Bernadette Delaney’s a social worker for the Elder Abuse Project in the Special Victims Bureau of the Queens District Attorney’s Office. She discussed other common crimes against seniors such as the ‘sweetheart scam’ being seen in Queens.
A younger woman targets an older gentleman and she establishes a friendship or a romantic relationship. The woman only gives a cell phone number, never allows her picture to be taken or the man to come to her home. Eventually, she asks the man for money – perhaps for surgery for a relative with no insurance or help in starting a business. Once the woman receives the money, she disappears.
"I have met very intelligent men who fall prey to this because of a great deal of loneliness," said Delaney. "Sometimes people are mentally impaired."
She also spoke about family members who abuse their power of attorney for elderly relatives and real estate brokers who trick impaired seniors into signing the deed of their houses into the broker’s name.
Lois Booker-Williams, of the State Attorney General’s Office, summed up the advice heard during the seminar.
"There is no get rich scheme here for you or I ladies and gentlemen," said Booker-Williams. "If someone comes to sell you something, to offer you something, to promise you something – run the other way.
"Read the contracts, read the agreements, check the business before you do business with them and then you won’t find yourself in a terrible position where people have taken advantage of you."
The FTC’s toll-free telephone number to find out about, or to report, identity theft is 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) and on the web at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
reached by calling 311, and their website is www.nyc.gov/consumers. New York State’s Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline is 1-800-771-7755. The Economic Crimes Bureau for the Queens DA’s Office can be reached at 718-286-6673.