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Protect against defrauding seniors

In recent years, three main crimes have come to the forefront, garnering attention from organizations who mean to educate the public about crime prevention and safety. Senior fraud, identity theft and Internet crimes are quite prevalent today. In response, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) has developed educative materials and campaigns designed to address these crime issues. Here are some statistics on these common crimes based on studies by the NCPC.

Each year, nearly 25 million Americans are victims of consumer fraud. Senior citizens continue to be a rapidly increasing segment of the population, and that makes them a prime target for con artists and thieves. Studies indicate that seniors are the age group most at risk for telemarketing scams. In fact, telemarketers specifically target scams - anywhere from 56 to 80 percent - at seniors.

Protect yourself by doing the following.

•Never give out personal information over the phone or Internet unless you have initiated the contact or sale. Legitimate companies will not ask for this information over the phone. Personal information includes social security numbers and credit card information.

•Don't believe the "too good to be true" offer. If you have doubts about something, ask to see the offer in writing and review it later.

•Contests or "freebies" are often scams. Typically the receipt of a prize requires purchase of something else.

Identity theft can affect just about anyone. According to the United States Postal Service, there were almost 10 million incidents of identity theft in the country in 2004 at a cost of $5 billion to consumers. Victims spend hours and hundreds of dollars trying to clean up the mess left by identity theft.

Protect yourself by doing the following.

•Don't be forthcoming with your personal information over the phone or the Internet. Make sure any Web sites on which you're entering information have reliable encrypted security to protect data when it is flying through cyberspace.

•Invest in a shredder. Don't simply throw out statements and bill stubs.

•Never share passwords or PIN codes with other individuals. Similarly, do not believe e-mail solicitations that pretend to be from a financial institution looking for passwords or PIN codes. A legitimate bank, credit union, insurance company, etc., would never solicit information in this fashion.

•Do not carry your birth certificate or social security card in your wallet. And only keep on hand the credit or debit cards you use on a regular basis. If your wallet is stolen, this will limit the amount of information the thief will have.

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