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Scams prolific as Portulaca oleracea L.

I see a parallel between unwanted telephone solicitations and an unwanted weed in my garden — the Portulaca oleracea L. known to many as Purslane. Both are prolific, tenacious, and invasive.

I’ve experienced an alarming trend this year with telephone and email solicitations to the Senior Center: the solicitor using the name of a reputable community figure or organization to promote their pitch.

Not all these solicitations are scams but definitely unethical business practices.

Here’s an incident earlier this year:

An organization selling magnetic advertising for home refrigerators contacted the Senior Center with an opportunity to raise funds to benefit a city service provider. The solicitor used a well-recognized community name claiming that this individual was in partnership with their sales campaign.

I responded that I would check with that person. A phone call confirmed that the salesman did not have authorization to use that individual’s name nor were any proceeds going to support the city service.

The pitch sounded authentic. The name and organization used by the salesman was real and well-recognized. What wasn’t authentic was that the salesman did not have any agreement to use that service’s name.

Don’t ask me why I thought I needed to do some investigative work, but I’m glad I did and now use this approach to check into unsolicited requests for the Center.

Here’s a second example from an email solicitation:

Business Name: SHERIDON SENIOR CENTER (notice the spelling of Sheridan)

NAME OF A SENIOR CENTER STAFF MEMBER HERE

Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover Card require all merchants who process, transmit or store payment card information to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Our records indicate you have not reported your PCI compliance to us… These non-compliance fees may amount to $180.00 to $479.40 per year and may be assessed for each merchant ID that is not reported as PCI compliant.

Call us at … (etc.).

Sound legitimate? The solicitation used the names of well-recognized credit card services. I forwarded this email to our finance director who immediately confirmed this is a scam. I marked this email as junk and sent it to my blocked senders list.

Or yet another scam, a community resident admitted to donating to a caller who claimed that his veteran son needed surgery that the Veterans Affairs wouldn’t provide. Who doesn’t want to stand behind our sons and daughters injured in the line of duty?

Hold the phone! What?! Why wouldn’t the VA assist? What was unique about this veteran’s situation? In hindsight, the resident admitted that a call to the VA might have clarified the call as a scam.

Here are two signs to tip you that you may be dealing with a scam or unethical business practice: 1. They need money from you, and, 2. You must act NOW or you’ll lose (protection, an opportunity to help someone, the chance of a lifetime, whatever).

What is especially disconcerting is that solicitors are using the names of legitimate companies, organizations and individuals who have no relationship whatsoever with their promotion.

Even if a caller (or email sender) uses your grandson’s name, the name of your bank, a legitimate organization’s name, end the call. Call your grandson, bank or the organization if you can and confirm that the call is legitimate. If it is, the caller will understand.

Don’t take the caller (or email sender) at face value as being the person or organization they say they are. Do some investigating. Please, spread the word to others who may not read this column today.

The reality is that unethical people won’t stop asking strangers for money and will return again and again — as prolific as the Purslane weed. What we can do is be cautious and do some investigating before giving money.

 

Lois Bell is the Communications Director at the Sheridan Senior Center. “Center Stage is written by friends of the Senior Center for the Sheridan Community. It is a collection of insights and stories related to living well at every age.”

 


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