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Brady brings consumer experts to aid Logan County seniors

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[July 21, 2014]  LINCOLN - Illinois State Senator Bill Brady welcomed attendees at his consumer clinic at the Oasis Senior Center on Wednesday afternoon. Senator Brady represents several central Illinois counties including all of Logan County in the Illinois legislature. Representatives from the Illinois Attorney General, American Association of Retired Persons, and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) were on hand to answer questions from the audience about consumer fraud, and how to save on utility bills.

Representatives of CUB sat down with individuals after their presentation and went over their phone, electric, and gas bills seeking to find those areas where consumers could save money.

Caitlyn Smith from the Illinois Attorney General’s office discussed the services that the AG offers to Illinois residents who may suspect that they have been the target of fraud. She said, “The Attorney General handles 30,000 complaints a year, and we address every one of them.” These can range from complaints about home repairs, faulty or misrepresented products, or schemes to get consumers to invest in non-existent companies. Generally, fraud is defined as giving money to a business for a promised service or product and receiving nothing in return.

While the AG will request that a consumer fill out a form to file an official complaint, the office also maintains a consumer fraud hotline. The staff at the hotline can advise a person how to proceed with their complaint. In many instances, the Attorney General can act as a third party mediator to bring a resolution to a consumer complaint by negotiating between the consumer and business.
 


One of the growing areas in which the AG is involved is fraud against senior citizens. “The reason that fraud against senior is ramping up is that criminals know that seniors have worked their whole life and usually have built up financial resources and have good credit,” said Smith.

Smith advises that when a person receives a phone call from an unknown source requesting money to just hang up.

One of the recurring scams that seniors are subjected to is the grandparent scam. Someone may call and say that a grandchild is in trouble and needs money. “Sometimes the caller may even impersonate a grandchild and beg to be bailed out of a bad situation,” Smith said. She told of one senior who sent $15,000 to a scammer to supposedly help a grandchild.

Because seniors usually have such good credit, they are able to readily access cash at their bank. Smith advised that the person receiving the call establish where the person is calling from and the institution they represent. A red flag should be raised if the supposed grandchild begs that the call be kept a secret from their parents.

The caller may say they are calling from a jail or hospital and readily give a phone number. If the grandparent calls to confirm where it is coming from, the criminal will answer with the phony name.

Smith pointed out that a person should be very careful with this tactic. Phone numbers given by the caller are not a safe way to confirm the origin of the call.

This can be especially with utility fraud, Smith said. She recommends that all of the phone numbers of a person’s utility providers and credit card companies should be kept on a list next to the phone. This is an easy way to determine if the number given by the caller is legitimate.

Smith especially emphasized that no personal information should be given to a caller representing their bank, credit card company, or utility without confirming the source of the call.

 

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Identity theft is a growing problem. Care should also be taken when using the internet as well as unwelcome phone calls.
A social security number should never be given to a caller who is trying to represent a person’s bank or credit card company.

This even goes for someone only requesting the last four digits of a SSN. The first three numbers of a SSN indicate where a person was born, the middle two when a person first applied for a SSN, but the last four numbers are a unique number that are only given to one person. Caitlyn Smith said that it has been the case that a scammer can guess at the first five numbers and maybe get them right, and then get the final four numbers given unwittingly by a person who thinks that they can’t be used to get the complete number.

Andre Jordan, Associate Director of the Illinois branch of the American Association of Retired Persons spoke about the work the AARP is doing to protect aging consumers. AARP stresses consumer protection and financial security, and acts as an advocate for seniors in Congress.

Jordan spoke of the work AARP is doing to educate seniors about the many scams that are aimed at them. Jordan recommends that before agreeing to sign a contract for service from an unknown company, the consumer check with the Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Better Business Bureau. The best idea is to use a local company that is known to the consumer in order to avoid a scam. He especially warned the audience about scams on the phone and internet involving summer travel, which are numerous this time of year.

 

Rajiv Ravulapati spoke on behalf of the Citizens Utility Board. CUB was founded in 1984 in Illinois by legislative act. Its job is to help regulate and oversee the utilities that operate in the state. CUB is based in Chicago, but has recently opened an office in Hillsboro to better serve central and southern Illinois. The goal is to help consumers understand and manage their utility bills, and to fight against the ongoing attempt of utilities to raise their fees.

After the three presentations, several CUB representatives sat down with individuals and reviewed their utility bills to see if they could be reduced.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud Hotline is 1-800-386-5438 (TTY: 1-800-964-3013). The Senior Fraud Hotline is 1-800-243-5377 (TTY: 1-800-964-3013).

The Citizens Utility Board can be reached at 1-800-669-5556 and www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org

The American Association of Retired Persons website is www.AARP.org 

[By CURT FOX]

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