Wednesday, August 11, 1999

Senior Safety, The Ann Arbor News

Senior Safety
By Pamela Appea
The Ann Arbor News
Mall sponsors event to help older people avoid scams

Seniors like Ypsilanti resident, Grace Allen, 84, got a chance Tuesday to peruse information on everything from fraudulent health insurance billings to whether she gets enough fiber in her daily diet.

Allen was among 400 people who attended Briarwood Mall’s “Senior Safety Awareness Day,” the first senior event at the shopping center to address both health and safety issues.

“The response that we got was really positive,” said Marc Strich, Briarwood Mall general manager.

TRAID, a consortium of local area law enforcement agencies, senior organizations and local social service agencies, set up information booths and had experts on hand for questions.

Major concerns facing seniors are charity scams, telephone fraud and credit card fraud, said Irma Swanter, Michigan district coordinator for the American Association of Retired Persons, an organization addressing political and social issues for people over 50.

She said AARP had documented stories where seniors have been defrauded of tens of thousands of dollars. The seniors thought they were giving to charity or getting a chance to win a free cruise. She said in some cases, seniors are scammed over several months, even years.

“(Seniors) are lonely. They like to talk on the phone or have company. They’re just vulnerable,” said Uva Wilbanks, chairwoman for TRIAD.

Seniors at Tuesday’s event were given information on how to avoid telephone fraud and know their rights regarding unsolicited telemarketing calls and letters. Sometimes seniors get bombarded by scammers, specifically because of their age, Wilbanks said.

Deputy Lisa King of the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department recalled a recent case where an older Milan woman almost lost $1,200 on a scam.

Two men came uninvited to her home and offered to paint her barn, King said. The woman, in her late 70s, wrote them a check and the pair left without doing any work.

The woman’s son, an employee of the Ypsilanti Police Department, tracked the men that day—and the two were arrested at the bank as they were preparing to cash the check, King said.

Allen said she felt prepared for telephone scams by not answering the telephone unless she knows who is calling.

“I watch my bill every month. I got caller ID (and an answering machine), and if its important they will leave a message, she said.

Other booths at the mall gave information about Huron Valley paramedic service, area support groups, medical care and volunteer opportunities.

The event, said Tom Fisher, security director at Briarwood Mall, adds to other “senior friendly” activities at Briarwood, including the weekly “Fitness over Fifty” exercise.

Originally published August 11, 1999.