Living In The Balance

Do you think America was safer the day before September 11, 2001 or the day after September 11? I have occasionally asked this question to make the point that even though we did not FEEL safer, in reality our awareness of the danger made us safer as we began to take precautions. As Christians one of our great challenges is how to be aware of danger, while keeping a soft heart toward others and an open mind regarding God’s power to transform any life. This is an aspect of the challenge I believe is being addressed in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10: 16

There are many other ways we can apply this challenge to our lives. For instance, several weeks ago FBI agent, Jeff Jenson, came as our guest to give us the latest information on common frauds that target older adults. The program was very well attended and appreciated; however, since that time I have had numerous requests from individuals not able to attend, who wanted to know what we learned.

Having had a parent that was a victim of one of these frauds, I now know that this program is helpful for all adults so that we can help make our friends and family aware. I wish I had been aware and able to share this information with my mother prior to her own experience. Therefore, below I will summarize some of what agent Jenson shared.

Let Your Phone Go To Voice Mail. Agent Jenson began with the dramatic statement, “Don’t answer your phone!” and he went on to explain that though you can receive a fraudulent marketing call via your cell phone, the vast majority of these calls are happening by calling a person’s home phone or “land line”. Chances are higher that someone using a home phone is of the older generation, is a property owner, was raised to be polite, generous, and trusting, and has money and good credit. There is a greater chance that an older adult, especially living alone, is bored or lonely and less sophisticated when it comes to technology and perhaps even finances (for those whose spouse handled the financial decisions). Jenson said these older adults are less likely to report fraud because they are not sure who to report to, they are embarrassed, or they don’t believe that the “nice person” they talked with was committing fraud. Of course, these are all stereotypes that do not fit all of us, but those who want to take advantage of others have had more success with this target group for some of the reasons Jenson described.

The List. Are you aware of THE LIST? According to Agent Jenson, if not, changes are you may be on it.  This is a list of names and phone numbers of people that are a potential target for various types of fraud. The List includes individuals that have engaged in phone conversation with someone trying to make a sale on the phone and much like a funnel, the more a person has actively engaged, (buying items over the phone, etc.) the more likely they will be targeted for more sales – whether fraudulent or not. They move further down the funnel and become the most likely to be targeted. THE LIST is sold on the black market and once you are on it, you are there for good unless you change your phone number or get rid of your phone.

Sweepstakes or Lottery Fraud. You can be sure you did not win the Sweepstakes when you did not enter or when you are being asked to pay money in order to receive a greater return. Don’t do it! In fact, all international sweepstakes and lotteries are illegal in the U. S. and remember, your caller ID does not always tell the truth about the callers’ location. Never give financial information over the phone, even if the caller is telling you they want to put money into your account.

Agent Jenson made us aware that a person can be calling from out of the country or anywhere in country and make it appear on our phone that they are using a local area code. This is also why he encouraged us to let phone calls go to voice mail if we do not know the person calling.

Internet Fraud. No, that e-mail is not from the FBI or the IRS! They do not send emails. In fact, never respond to an email from someone you don’t know and certainly do not give any of your financial information over the Internet. Only use trusted Internet sites. If in doubt whether a link to a website is really a reputable institution, don’t click on the link. Instead, enter the institution’s web address yourself to make sure you are at the registered website. In addition, Agent Jensen warned that there is more than one reason not to go to a pornography site. They are most likely to have spyware attached that can invade your computer and personal information stored on your computer.

Kidnapping or Terroristic Fraud. Make sure you keep immediate contact information for all your family members handy so you can verify information immediately if a caller tries to scam you. A common scam is someone calling pretending to be a friend of your grandchild and saying he or she has been in an accident away from home and they need money right away for hospital bills or to get out of jail, etc. They also beg you to please not tell your family. Know where your family members are or how to call them to check out the facts. Then call the police when you hear that your grandchild is safe and where they are suppose to be.

Health Care Fraud. Watch out for any attempts for someone to get your Medicare number. A person may call offering free medical products, counterfeit prescriptions you can purchase online, telling you about a discount pharmacy, or fraudulent anti-aging products. Bottom line, they want your Medicare number.

When in Doubt, Call. Never let a caller pressure you to make an immediate decision. If you are in doubt about the validity of an offer, call the FBI Duty Agent at 210-225-6741. Someone is always assigned to this number and they want to help!

In addition, the Trinity faith family wants to help. Please know you can call. My prayers are with you as you live out this great Matthew 10: 16 challenge to be wise and alert while continuing to grow in your love for others.

In His Love, Vicki

A special thank you to the Older Adult Ministry Action Team and specifically Dave Statham for sponsoring this educational program.