Tuesday, May 4, 2004

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Attorney General Abbott Warns Seniors About Telephone, Medicare Card Fraud

SAN ANTONIO - Attorney General Greg Abbott today encouraged senior Texans to “Just Hang Up” on unsolicited telemarketing calls and cautioned consumers to be wary of telephone scams connected to the new Medicare drug discount cards.

Attorney General Abbott especially warned seniors about a growing number of telephone callers that promise multi-million dollar prizes from fake international lotteries, schemes that have cost Texans millions of dollars.

One solution is for Texans to “Just Hang Up” on callers who use unconscionable tactics to separate seniors from their life savings, the Attorney General said. The tactics include demanding money in advance as a requirement for collecting what turns out to be a non-existent prize.

“Senior Texans grew up in a more trusting time, when people told the truth and made deals on a handshake,” said Attorney General Abbott. “The devastating nature of today’s scams makes it essential that seniors remember how easy it is to ‘Just Hang Up’ on criminals who try to take advantage of them. Hanging up the phone is simple, effective, and it can save you thousands of dollars.”

Attorney General Abbott announced the “Just Hang Up” campaign to hundreds of seniors participating in San Antonio’s 13th Annual 60-Plus Mardi Gras Picnic and Parade, which raises funds to help the city’s nutrition centers.

Attorney General Abbott was joined by San Antonio residents Bill Fritz, 80, and his wife Dottie, 79. About two years ago, Fritz received a call telling him that he had won $200,000 in a lottery. The caller claimed to be a U.S. Customs official who was holding Fritz’s winnings and told Fritz to send $2,600 to claim his prize. Fritz did not send any money, but he continues to receive similar calls and mail solicitations offering fabulous prizes. In each instance, he is told he first must wire thousands of dollars to cover “taxes” and other “fees” before he can claim his prize.

Attorney General Abbott also told the story of Mrs. Willette Miller, an 85-year-old from Buchanan Dam, who lost approximately $84,000 to crooks who told her she had won a multi-million dollar prize in the Canadian lottery. Over the course of several months in 2002 and 2003, she wired numerous payments abroad, often in excess of $3,000 each

Since February, Attorney General Abbott’s office has received reports from 30 seniors throughout Texas who collectively lost in excess of $150,000.

“Sadly, this represents only a fraction of the money lost in scams against seniors. Too often, seniors are not reporting these scams out of embarrassment or because they don’t know where to go for help,” Attorney General Abbott said. “I assure them that there are many people who have been victimized. They should contact my office or local law enforcement immediately if someone tries to scam them in this manner.”

Attorney General Abbott also told seniors to be cautious about scams that might arise with the rollout of Medicare discount cards. Starting in June, the new cards will allow Medicare recipients to purchase medicines at a discounted rate.

“If you get a telephone call from anyone trying to sell you a Medicare drug discount card, you can be assured it is a scam. Just Hang Up,” said Abbott. He explained that the cards will only be available from entities authorized by the Medicare program to sell the cards for up to $30 each – and in certain cases they might even be free for qualifying low income seniors. The cards will bear the Medicare logo and beneficiaries will be notified about the different types of cards and the authorized sellers by mail, not by phone.

Seniors can also obtain lists of authorized vendors by calling, toll free, 1-800-MEDICARE or online at www.medicare.gov. They can also contact their local senior center or their doctor’s office to obtain information.

As part of the “Just Hang Up” effort, Attorney General Abbott unveiled a poster that his office is making available through the OAG Web site. The poster features Willette Miller and highlights her ordeal at the hands of scam artists.

The posters are available by calling the Attorney General’s hotline at 1-800-252-8011. Seniors can also call the hotline to report scams or to obtain additional information on how to spot common schemes.

Listen to actual conversation (MP3, about 1 MB)
Verbatim transcript of conversation (PDF, English & Spanish)
Just Hang Up print ad (PDF) English & Spanish
Just Hang Up poster (PDF) English & Spanish

Senior Alert Newsletter (English)
Senior Alert Newsletter (Spanish)